This is another photograph I took last summer of the 12th century frescos at Subiaco in Italy – Judas betraying Christ with a kiss in Gethsemane. Notice how the eyes of Christ are turned towards Judas, seemingly lovingly, whereas Judas, who has turned away from Jesus in his heart, averts his eyes and looks elsewhere – perhaps, almost accusingly, at us, the viewer.
Judas is an intriguing figure. Easily written off as a figure of treachery and greed, and the tool of the devil, it is perhaps worth pausing for a moment to give him more consideration. After all, he had joined Jesus’ band of followers some time before his act of betrayal, presumably not intending or planning his infamous act at that point. True, he was prepared in a moment of greed or weakness to betray his friend and master for money, and John’s gospel hints that greed for money was something of a weakness for Judas – he had previously helped himself to the disciples’ kitty, which he was in charge of. He wouldn’t be the first or last human being to suffer this weakness.
After the betrayal, though, there is some sense in which Judas makes the first moves towards repentance. Matthew tells us that he recognized his wrong and tried to give back the money he had taken for the betrayal. Despite this beginning of a recognition that what he has done is wrong, a glimmer of repentance, Judas seems unable to believe that he might be forgiven. He quickly lapses into a despair so deep that he sees no way out, and hangs himself. He seems not only to hate his act, but to hate himself for it, and be unable to accept the humiliation it brings. It would not be totally wrong to feel some human pity for his very human and, in some ways, all too familiar predicament.
Perhaps our society’s collective inability to lean on a belief in the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation explains some of the rampant psychological and spiritual ills of our age. Perhaps there is a little of the Judas in all of us, collectively and individually.