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By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
“Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
He answered, “You have said so.”
Few things hurt more than a friend who betrays another friend. It is well known that Jesus would endure excruciating tortures on the pillar and on the cross, but people tend to gloss over the internal suffering that afflicted him because of this betrayal.
In the Last Supper, where one will hear the oft repeated words of the Blessed Sacrament, truly hearing and internalizing the weight and sadness of the words becomes difficult. Jesus looks upon His friends, His disciples (which might signify something closer than mere friends), for the last time. The one who loves Him most and later leads His flock, Peter, will deny Him three times. Another, Judas, will betray Him for thirty pieces of silver. The others will scatter when His enemies come and take Him. Only John, the one who leans against Him like the innocent child He was, will stand at the foot of the cross with His mother. For Jesus, there is very little to be happy about.
The only scene that comes close to this is in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Dramatizing the account in Plutarch’s Lives, Shakespeare depicts Caesar as a paranoid leader who trusts no one except his close friends Antony and Brutus. For the sake of family honor, and reviving the republic that created that family honor, Brutus joins a conspiracy to kill Caesar. Although he argues the contrary, Brutus’s action is purely self-centered: his idea of Rome and Caesar mattered far more than the reality.
Brutus’ own resolve, as well as the facts of history, leave no doubt about Caesar’s impending doom. Therefore, the audience can only watch with anguish as Caesar greats his best friends on the morning of his death with a hearty smile and words of goodwill. For all his bluster (and Shakespeare packs his character with plenty of ridiculous boasts), for all his failings, andfor all of Brutus’s honor, Caesar does not deserve to die this way.
At his bloody death, Caesar mutters pitifully to his friend, “Et tu, Brute? (—You too, Brutus?)” The betrayal, more than the stab wounds, hurts himmore. Most men can console the thought of their death with the knowledge that they have friends and family who will mourn for them. Caesar realizes he has no one. Even the most honorable and loyal friend he has wanted him dead.
At the Last Supper—as well as during his Passion—Christ surely feels something similar, yet He responds to the betrayal knowingly, with a touch of resignation, “You have said so.” Despite hearing of the withering prophecy that Jesus’s betrayer would have been better off not being born, Judas attempts to deny his intentions and lie right in the face of Truth personified. Jesus gives him a chance to repent, a chance to come clean about his duplicity, but He knows Judas has taken the money and has hardened his heart to commit the deed long ago. Not even Christ Himself can forgive Judas at this point since Judas has turned away in every sense. Judas’s betrayal compounds the tragedy, for in it, not one, but two men will die, and one will not be saved.
For Dante in the Inferno, the betrayal of one’s friend—and such a wonderful friend upon whose shoulders the world rests—earns the soul a place in the lowest depths of Hell. Stuck in ice, Satan broods gloomily with three people in his mouths (he has three): Judas, Brutus, and Cassius (the senator who tempts Brutus into murdering Caesar). For the sake of money and honor, these three men strike a blow not only at their friend, but at Love, Order, and Human Dignity. The symbolic and spiritual weight of their action sinks them to the very depths of the abyss.
Judas’s casual acceptance of treachery is probably the worst part of all. He proves that betrayal is all so easy while Peter will prove that loyalty is all so difficult. The ease of detaching oneself from another in need and smartly profiting from it should scare any conscientious believer. One would do better to embrace the cross and bear the shame in the name of faith, hope, and love, than lose oneself in the world for nonexistent goods.
Whatever one may say about Judas’s motives, he essentially embraces nihilism the moment he accepts that money: Truth and Love cease to matter. His suicide soon afterward should surprise no one. A person who chooses nothingness over Being will quickly cease to be forever.