Now the one-handing-him-over had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him’
A kiss the sign of betrayal! Why, Judas, why? Is it just one more ruse, aimed at catching your prey wholly unaware until the very last second when lightning-like, the cobra strikes? When one considers what Jesus has meant to you until recently, and you to him, your tone of ruthless self-determination fairly chills the blood. Now, finally, it is you running the show, running him in fact, literally shaping his earthly destiny. You have become wholly depersonalized, rather like a meticulously poised, infinitely accurate nuclear missile hurtling unstoppably toward its target. And yet your language and gestures retain all the outward symbols of reverence and friendship. In advance, and with clever premeditation, you have instructed those who hate your Master: The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him. But why do you approach him this time surrounded by a mob? Never before were you afraid of the dark, in his company. Is even your own blood chilled by your betrayal?
Moreover, how can tender kissing (an action of love) and violent seizing (with intent to destroy) become one and the same thing in your heart? How can you affirm such conflictive actions within the same promiscuous sentence? Is this, then, the key to your whole person and tragedy, namely, this intolerable contradiction in your heart, this colossal collision in your breast between the Disciple and the Betrayer? In that case how very fittingly you embody us all—all of us, I say, who started off as seekers of the Light, as joyful servants of Highest Truth. But then all too often we betray the deepest tenderness and yearning of our heart and must, naturally, set out to destroy the very Source of Love that had so powerfully seduced us, drawing us to his Heart. Are we not often tempted to look upon ourselves as arrant fools for having entertained for even a moment the dream of our souls’ betrothal to the divine Bridegroom? And, ah, how well we know that we save for our own heart our cruelest, our all-obliterating violence, in order to punish it for having been so gullible as to be duped by a phantom divine seduction.
Yes, indeed, Judas. Much more than a simple practical ruse must motivate your action of concealing betrayal with a tender kiss. By doing away with Jesus, the object of your erstwhile devotion, you want to wreak vengeance on your own former naïveté and force a poisoned kiss to wipe out every vestige of innocence from your heart, as in an atomic holocaust. For you have now become a Political Realist and your Realpolitik has no toleration for personal feelings of tenderness or the quiet satisfactions of friendship and a shared life of devotion. All that is surely for the weak, for the pansy-souled. Yet are you not the first true victim of your new-fangled hatred for both human and divine tenderness, and for the mystical universe of joyful communion it represents? Jesus is but the exterior occasion of your self-destruction, the objectification of your own self-hatred. Some people commit murder because they feel unworthy of their victim’s love, and to be unconditionally loved with persistence only reminds them of their shameful unworthiness.
But why, Judas, am I intent on holding this distressing dialogue with you? Do you think it is to point my finger accusingly at you? Quite the opposite, my friend! It must be because you are, in turn, the projection of my own flight from the commitment required by intimacy and deep love. How I toil to construct for myself a new, stainless-steel identity based on hard-nosed, this-worldly “realism”! For only such realism is reputed to produce results. And yet this titanic self-determination is such a hollow pretense that, in its wobbly insecurity, it cannot abide anything that reminds it of its sham, and so it must destroy all evidence that truest strength lies in fidelity to the Beloved, even in his weakness, dishonor and defeat. True strength of character is to be sought in purity of heart and in steadfast interior devotion to the object of my love.
The Taking of Christ, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1602, 133.5 x 169.5 cm., oil on canvas, National Gallery of Ireland. Meditation by Father Simeon.