January 18, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 26:47-56.
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs, who had come from the chief priests and the elders of the people. His betrayer had arranged a sign with them, saying, “The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him.” Immediately he went over to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and he kissed him. Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me? Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me. But all this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
As I was reading this there were several things that puzzled me. One was that Judas said to Jesus, “Hail.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as a respectful greeting. The New Revised Standard Version and the New Jerusalem Bible both translate the Greek as “greetings.” Mark simply has Judas say, “Rabbi.” So, why does Matthew insert a more formal address especially since it had only been a few hours since Judas saw him at supper in the upper room? The only thing I can come up with is that sometimes I use more formal language as a way to create distance or separation. It’s respectful and polite, but not open and inviting into a deeper relationship. Perhaps it’s a sign that Judas had closed his heart to Jesus; he created distance in his side of the relationship so that he could do what he had set out to do. But Jesus rebuffs that tactic; he calls Judas friend reminding him of their relationship that had been characterized by mutual warmth, acceptance, and trust — by love.
It also seems unlikely to me that the agents of the chief priests would not have recognized Jesus. It was only necessary that Judas was along to show the way to the private olive orchard where he knew Jesus had gone to pray. So, it’s odd that Judas would have told these agents that he would give them a sign indicating the one they should arrest. As Jesus had been very visible during this time in Jerusalem and caused quite a stir, surely someone in the group would have recognized him. It seems to me that Matthew, Mark, and Luke needed to invent a reason for Judas to kiss Jesus. The kiss is a central part of the story. In fact, Luke has Jesus say, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
Barclay, who translated the original Greek, points out that the word “kiss” used by Judas in telling the captors that he would point out Jesus by kissing him was the normal word for kiss. However, a different word is used for kiss after Judas greeted Jesus, which is why Barclay translates it as “kissed him lovingly.” This version of “kiss” is the “word for a lover’s kiss, and means to kiss repeatedly and fervently.” First, Judas addressed Jesus in a formal, respectful way. Then, he kissed him lovingly. It’s such a contrast and it all occurred in the briefest of moments. So, what are the gospel writers trying to tell us? I had to contemplate this a long time.
What came to mind was something that Sr. Susan Chase told us Wednesday night in her presentation on centering prayer. She reminded us that God is in the now, in the present moment. I think that Judas had set his mind on this treachery, justifying his decision on the basis that Jesus had failed his messianic mission. He had not rallied people to a holy crusade. He had not liberated the Israelites from their Roman overlords. He had not reclaimed Palestine as the promised land for God’s chosen people. I think he had concluded that Jesus was not the Son of God, that God was not his Father as he so often spoke. I think that Judas was severely disappointed and, thus, rejected Jesus. Jesus was not who he said he was; he was a fraud.
But in that moment between “Hail” and a formal kiss of greeting, Judas encountered God in the now. In that present moment he forgot his disappointment. It all came rushing back to him in a flash how he had first been attracted to Jesus, how he clung to his words, how he had been inspired to give up everything to follow this man, how he loved him with all his strength and heart and mind. And he kissed Jesus lovingly. He hadn’t intended to, but he was suddenly embraced by God’s love and responded in love. He kissed him lovingly. Then it was all over. He had done his job, with regret or not now, and the rest was out of his hands.
It reminds me of my own most intimate relationship. There are times when I am disappointed in Cindy; she hasn’t been the wife I’ve wanted her to be; she hasn’t put me first above all else; she has hurt me or let me down. I get it in my head that this marriage wasn’t what it was meant to be, that we had made a mistake, that it’s all over. I treat her formally, politely, closing my heart because my mind is made up. But then in a look into her eyes, a tear running down her cheek, an embrace, I suddenly encounter love, God’s love through her. God is in the now and I am able to cast aside the disappointment in the past and the bleakness of the future.
In Marriage Encounter we were told that love is a decision, not a feeling. I think there is some truth to that, but I think love is also a feeling. My feelings reveal my heart and allow me to live more fully in the present. I think that’s when I am closest to God and to Cindy, those moments when I open my heart and allow myself to be in the present moment is where God dwells, where His love conquers. Those moments are sweet lightness, inexpressible joy.
I think that’s what Judas experienced briefly in that unintended loving kiss. I also think it was that bitter realization of his loss that led him to take his own life. In the end he knew love, but he didn’t believe in forgiveness, in salvation, the whole reason Jesus had come to us. Without that there was nothing for him.
Today I think that Jesus is reminding me to live in the now with God and with all those I love. I will have nothing to regret.