a betrayal with kisses – a Palm Sunday meditation

lipsJesus’ disciple, Judas Iscariot, betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver, then led an arrest mob, saying, “The one I kiss is the one you seek” (Matthew 26.48).

It was night. Great was the possibility, probability of mistaken identity. Judas had to give some sign. But why so loving a sign. Why not throw an incriminating stone at Jesus or slap his face, punch his gut, pull his beard, yank his hair, kick his derrière?

Judas kissed Jesus. So, I wonder. What kind of kiss?

An apologetic brush against the cheek? Did Judas, whatever his reasons for betraying Jesus, have second thoughts about the rightness of what he was doing?

Was it a mercenary, bloodless, eyes-wide-open peck on the forehead? Did Judas, giving up everything to follow Jesus, then witnessing the mounting animosity of the authorities and foreseeing a disastrous end for Jesus and himself, try to make the best of a bad situation?

Was it a hopeful, soulful, soft, sincere caress? Did Judas, expecting to stand in the light of Jesus’ glory, but confused by Jesus’ slow (hesitant?) journey to Jerusalem, the political and religious capital, intend to force Jesus to confront the authorities and demonstrate, prove his power?

Was it a bruising, resentful crush of lips on lips? Did Judas, believing in God’s sovereignty, yearning to throw off Rome’s yoke of oppression, see in Jesus’ teaching and miracles the coming of God’s kingdom, but then as Jesus’ message changed, including predictions of his suffering and death, consider him a fraud, a false Messiah deserving punishment for his deception?

Whatever Judas’ motivations, in first century Judaism, the rabbi-disciple relationship was governed by well-defined rules. A disciple was not to greet the teacher first, implying equality. Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss. A signal to those who came to arrest Jesus and Judas’ calculated insult, premediated rejection of Jesus.

In this, Judas calls me, in my Lenten self-examination, to remember moments when I betrayed a relationship…

Saying, in so many words, largely to avoid honest disclosure (or, ambivalent, not sure what I needed to say or how), “It’s not you, it’s me…”

Or reticent to speak my truth for fear of how I’d be viewed, simply, silently walking away…

Or abandoning another in a needful hour. Like Peter, who, as Jesus faced death, denied his friend, declaring, “I do not know him” (Matthew 26.72).

In my remembrances, I dare not stand in judgment of Judas. Rather I must stand with him.

In this confession, I recognize anew that whenever I betray another, first and finally, I betray my self. My psyche, soul. My esse, being.

In this revelation, I behold a light leading me through my inner despair (where even in the shadows I see clearly the parts of me I despise) toward a new place to stand when I can choose to try again to be true to God, others, and my self.

Thank you, Judas, for compelling me to see me clearly. Thank you, Jesus, for calling me to believe in a God of second chances, who accepts me as I am without one plea and bids that I become fully who I already am, which is another way of saying, to get up and to try again.

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4 thoughts on “a betrayal with kisses – a Palm Sunday meditation

  1. Paul,

    This was a compelling reflection. When I think of a kiss I definitely don’t think of betrayal, but I loved how you described the different types of kiss. I wondered which would be the best in advance of such a betrayal.

    I too am beyond grateful for the God of second chances because no matter who we betray, even ourselves, we can always get up and try again. I keep failing, but I always want to get up and press on.

    Happy Palm Sunday Paul!!

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  2. Happy, blessed Palm Sunday to you, too, Loretta. As for the type of kiss best attending a betrayal, hmmm, depends on one’s motive, I think. Putting myself in Judas’ place, if I was ambivalent, having second thoughts about my betrayal of my friend, Jesus, my kiss might be, as I described, timid. If I was angry and resentful, feeling betrayed by Jesus not being who I thought he was or, perhaps more honestly, wanted him to be, my kiss might be, again, as I described, bruising, crushing. Now, as you, I am grateful for the God of second chances. Heaven knows AND I know how much i need them!

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  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this dark story. for me what I am reminded of is how Judas,betrayer though he was, played an absolutely necessary role in Jesus’s path to the cross. Without Judas things could have gone very differently. unfortunately he had to do what he did and he did not realize that he was just a player in an incredibly large game. it was a sad story that had an incredibly happy ending.

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    • Amy, I take your point on Judas’ necessary role in the larger salvation-drama-story. Sometimes I think had he not filled/fulfilled that purpose of compelling matters to come to the proverbial head of confrontation another disciple would have stepped in. There is something undeniable, I think, about the roles – some good and honorable, some not, and some obscure, at least, in the moment – we adopt and carry out in our relationships. Thanks for your reading and commenting.

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