So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss. Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” —Matthew 26:50
The air is warming with spring,
and the stars are pregnant with Abrahamic promise.
The cicadas are humming new hymns
and the moon is dressed in bridal splendor.
This is a perfect evening, wouldn’t you agree,
for a long walk through the woods with friends?
Now, why do you come slithering with a long procession?
Why do you lead a march of flaming suns?
Are not the stars enough to light our way?
Why have you come with a river rushing
with the drowning sound of human feet
stomping in military weight and precision?
I can’t hear the praises of cicadas.
Judas’ kiss is a moment of profound human drama in history (and literature). To dismiss it as the wiles of evil is to miss how our loves are in constant struggle with distrust and hatred specifically because love risks trust and vulnerability. We hate what we love and the depth of betrayal is commensurate with the height of our devotion.
The gospel writers draw us into that drama by not exhibiting the internal tensions of the characters – the tendency of today’s novels – but by simply reporting the event that culminates in the kiss. That night, the kiss as the ordinary middle eastern greeting becomes a passionate kiss as it encompasses all previous exchanges of friendship in the daily greeting kisses, both summarizing the relationship and questioning it, the way a routine goodbye become weighed with significance when it becomes the last one by a death.
We also the know the kiss burned on Judas’ lips for he hurls back the 30 pieces of silver regretting he had betrayed a good man. His regret is the storm of his love for Jesus. His hanging is his penance (whether acceptable or not is not our judgment). But the passion necessary for self-destruction is a passion stirred by love underserved. He was wracked with guilt because Jesus loved him still. Jesus was not passive in the kiss. I believe Jesus never gave up on Judas, that he received Judas’ kiss with a kiss. It was the extension of the supper he gave hours before. Only if Judas was brave enough to believe that Jesus’ love was not only good but was enough to pardon him.
For me, this is important because I don’t think I’m too far from Judas.
This is a poem trying to capture what I’m fumbling to say in prose.