The Zoo Fence

Jesus and Judas

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This is a dramatic interpretation of a conversation that I hope took place among Jesus and Judas and Mary Magdalene in the moments before The Last Supper (Mark 14, John 13). For me, this interpretation helps to explain why Jesus, a Divine Teacher (John 13:13), encouraged, even ordered (in his words, “What you are going to do, do quickly” John 13:27) his disciple Judas to betray him in a way that he, Jesus, must have known would ensure his own arrest and crucifixion (John 13:21), and the eternal damnation of his disciple, Judas. (John 17:12?)

Those eight words just do not sound like something a True Teacher, any teacher, would speak to a student or a disciple in that way under those circumstances without some kind of prior explanation or preparation. Jesus was awake and aware; he had to have known precisely what was in Judas’ mind and its implications. Consider that after a brief meeting with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Sycha, Jesus “told me all that I ever did” (John 4). If Jesus could read all there was to know about a woman whom he had only just met, it is not conceivable that he could not read Judas, head to toe.

In sum, if Jesus knew what was on Judas’ mind, which being Jesus He surely did, are we to believe that He would have ordered Judas to do it, thereby sentencing Judas to eternal damnation and Himself to crucifixion, without exchanging in advance at least a few words of agreement, disagreement, surprise, encouragement … something. I’m sorry, that is simply not believable.

The Gospels writers reported the crucifixion event as a betrayal because that is what it looked like to them. But was it? Something is missing. I suspect the incident unfolded differently than it was reported. And if so, we may owe it to Judas and to Jesus to rethink our perception of it.

Thus, the following suggested exchange.

BUT before you read any further, please consider this: “Jesus” is the English form of the Latin form of the Greek form of the Hebrew word Yeshua or Yehoshua. In fact, scholars tell us the man’s name was almost certainly an Aramaic word, most likely something like Issa. Given that, I cannot help but wonder, is it appropriate for me, for us, to consider him, to address him, to love him, to pray to him, by the English version of the Latin name used by Pilate and his Roman soldiers as they drove iron nails into his hands and feet. Surely his mother, his disciples, and others who adored him, did not address him by that Roman name. Why do we?
    Suppose a spouse or child or dear friend of yours had been arrested and tortured and even killed by some foreign authority, and instead of referring to their victim by his or her given name, those authorities called him or her something else. Would you adopt their applied name, or would you continue remembering and addressing your loved one by her or his familiar name? The question answers itself, doesn’t it?
    Just so, in this playlet I address him by the name Issa instead of Jesus. If my doing so makes you uncomfortable, I get that. It has taken me a long time to get used to it; indeed I have still not made that leap anywhere else on The Zoo Fence. Without explanation or apology, simply jump to this page; there he is “Jesus.”

For a full discussion of my understanding of The Last Supper, please click here.
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The Zoo Fence

And now, finally, the suggested conversation among Issa, Judas, and Mary Magdalene.

The Zoo Fence

The Time: Midday, a few hours before The Last Supper
The Place: Jerusalem, a grassy knoll
Present: Issa, who is seated on the grass, and Judas, who is walking by.

Issa (to Judas): There you are. Good. Come, sit next to me. We have to talk. There’s something I need you to do, something the two of us need to do together.

Judas (walks over, sits on the grass beside Issa): Of course, Teacher. Whatever. (John 13:13)

Issa: You’re a good man, Jay. But, trust me, you are not going to like this. (“Jay” is Issa’s nickname for Judas.)

Judas: Please don’t say that, Teacher. Doing anything for You is my favorite thing. Whatever you need, just ask.

Issa: You know about the sacrificial lamb thing, right?

Judas: Of course I do. I have been taught about that since childhood: A sinner lays his hand on a lamb, thereby passing his sin to the lamb; the lamb is slaughtered, and the sinner is cleansed.

Issa: Well, our Father wants us to perform a variation on that.

Judas: I’m not sure I like the sound of that.

Issa: What can I tell you, He’s God. (pauses, takes a breath) So, this is the way it’s going down. I am to be the lamb. Pilate, who as you know is looking for an excuse to get rid of me, what with all my talk of a New Kingdom, has been selected as the executioner, and …

Judas (interrupting): No, no, no! You know what that means, don’t you? You’re not a Roman citizen. You don’t get a clean chop at the neck. You get crucifixion. No, please, don’t say that word.

Issa (with finality): Yes, I know. And here’s the thing: We’ve selected you to put it in motion. Dad and I want you to go to Pilate, and tell him where I am, and when he can find me here.

Judas (with panic): You’re scaring me. Please tell me You’re joking. Please, Sir, say it’s …

Issa (interrupting): I’m sorry, Jay, but it’s no joke. (Issa affectionately takes Judas’ hand in his) Near the end of today’s meal, I am going to instruct you to go to Pilate, and tell him where he can find me. (with emphasis) The others are not to know what we’re doing until it’s in train. Mom, too. I mean that. So, I will say to you something simple that none of them will understand, something like “Go!” And, without any comment, you will do as I am telling you now. Is that clear? (Issa releases Judas’ hand)

Judas: Of course, Teacher, I will do as You say. But You’re not telling the others? They’re going to blame all of this on me. They’re already jealous about Your having picked me as treasurer, even accusing me of “helping myself” to the group’s funds (John 12:6). You know I don’t mind taking heat for You; I love You so. But mankind will hate me forever.

Enter Mary Magdalene

Issa to Mary: I am glad you have come, Ems. It is good to have you here just now. Sit. (There are several Marys among Issa’s close followers, so each has a nickname. ‘Ems’ is Issa’s idea for the two M’s in Mary Magdalene.) (Mary sits on the grass, across from Issa and Judas.)

Mary (to Issa): Thank You, Teacher. (With respect, but firmly) If You need to have a secret conversation, then please have it in secret, not on an open lawn. (turns toward Judas with a smile and a hint of sacrcasm) Jay, what’s–his–name, he who has a nasty habit of badmouthing you, (her face shows disgust) has been eavesdropping on this conversation, probably still is. (pauses, turns her attention to us) Speaking of which, I am compelled to take a moment to clarify for you Judas’ earlier comment about being accused of stealing from our money box (John 12:6). All of the group’s money comes from me and a few other women who provide for Issa out of our own means. (Luke 8:3) That accusation against Judas is a baldfaced lie, and I can say that with confidence because, believe me, if Judas or anyone else was helping himself to our money, Joanna, Susanna, Martha, Other, and I would have put him on a bus! (pauses, then sternly) I hope that’s clear. (sighs) (“Other” is Issa’s nickname for the Mary named “the other Mary” at Matthew 27:61 and 28:1) (Mary turns back to Issa and Judas) In fact, he is now out there telling the rest of us that (to Judas) you’re going to lead Pilate to us so that he can arrest and crucify (to Issa) You.

Issa (with exasperation): Oh, please.

Judas (to Issa): What’d I tell You. My name’s going to be mud for all time.

Mary (to Judas): Not if I can help it, Jay. (to Issa) Master (John 13:13), I understand there is a call for a sacrificial event. (Issa raises his eyebrows) Yea, he told us about that, too. But why Jay? His love for You is intense; betraying You, even seeming to betray You, will kill him. (Matthew 27:5) If we have to do it, let it be me who delivers You to Pilate. No one here will dare accuse me. They’re all afraid of me. Assertive women scare the hell out of them, if You’ll pardon the expression. And my name? No matter what I do, the church is going to call me a whore. So what? I know who I am. Thanks to You!

Issa (with a broad smile): I am proud of you, Ems. All the more for offering yourself on behalf of Jay. But you know, you both know, as well as I do, it would not work. It cannot be you. You’re a woman. Pilate won’t pay attention to a woman.

Mary: Tell me about it. (Issa smiles)

Issa (lightly): Just wait. That will improve. The women’s movement is coming; but it is still a couple thousand years off. (with seriousness) Here’s the thing. This task cannot be done by any of the others. Bless their hearts, none of them understands what I have been Teaching the way you two do. (a couple of tears are seen to form in Judas’ eyes) In their minds, it’s always been about us against Rome, politics and warfare, good guys and bad guys. Outer, not inner. (pauses in thought) I mean, consider Luke’s report of their wanting my permission to burn a Samaritan village to the ground because the townsfolk refused to welcome me. (Luke 9:54) Really. This stuff is over their heads. Their devotion, impassioned as it is, would not permit them to go peaceably to Pilate. They would insist on being armed. There would be a riot. The tenor of the event would be lost. (Issa pauses. Turns to Judas) I’m sorry, Jay, but it’s got to be you.

The place: Heaven.
The time: A while since Issa, Judas. and Mary Magdalene spoke.
Present: God, seated on a soft cloud.
A few feet off is Judas. He is walking uncertainly, toward God.
He has performed precisely as instructed by Issa.

God (seeing Judas): There you are. I’ve been waiting for you. Sit down, next to Me.

Judas (with nervousness): Are You … You are …

God: Yes, I AM. Don’t be nervous, it’s okay. My boy told Me about the conversation you three had, and I knew you would be coming, so I wanted to be here for you, soon as you arrived. How are you?

Judas: I’m afraid to tell You. You see, after talking to Pilate, I … what I did was …

God: I know what you did. You killed yourself. It’s alright, Jay. I understand. Really, I do. In your place, if I thought of myself as mortal, as you think of yourself, I might have done the same thing. Don’t worry about it. The boy’s being tortured right now, even as we speak. Soon, they will be driving nails through his hands and feet. That image is what killed you, thinking, believing that you are the cause of your beloved Teacher’s death. No, you only did what I wanted you to do. Please trust Me; the boy’s fine. He will be here with the two of us, soon. I will have him sit right next to you.

Judas: But he is in such pain, such suffering. It breaks my heart.

God: Pain, yes; suffering, no.

Judas (confused): He’s not suffering? I don’t understand, Sir.

God: Suffering is the mind taking pain personally. Issa takes nothing personally. And neither should you. That’s My Area. As for pain, Issa recognizes it as the body’s proper response to abuse, a call to the brain for help. He knows that.

Judas (still confused): I guess. I still hate what I, we, are doing to him. (pause) May I ask a question?

God: Of course.

Judas (with conviction): Why? Why is this happening? How does his dying cleanse me of my sins, cleanse mankind of our sins?

God: Ah, yes, finally the real question. I congratulate you. (pause) I regret having to tell you, the answer is: It doesn’t. Only you can do that. Sins are undone the same way as they are done … in your mind, in your heart, by your actions.

Judas (alarmed): Damn You! (immediately upon realizing what he has just said, and to Whom, Judas goes to his knees, his head down to his feet)

God: (gently lifts Judas back to a seated position): Wow! That was refreshing. Thank you. I love it when people are honest with Me. It’s so rare. (God smiles.) But let’s get right back to your question. It is a crucial one. I am so glad you asked it. (pauses) The point of the crucifixion is not that Issa dies on the cross; the point is that he doesn’t. That’s why, any minute now, he will appear to Ems (John 20:11), fully alive. His appearance to her demonstrates that even after such a brutal bodily death — something the Romans sure do know how to orchestrate — Issa is alive. Why? Because physical death is the opposite of physical birth, not of life. There is no opposite to life. Life is eternal. Issa’s awakening into eternal life occurred in Bethany with John the Baptist (Mark 1:10). That is what the dove there is intended to signify. I figured a dove would be a metaphor no one could miss. That life never dies. Nothing kills it. That’s the lesson of the crucifixion.

Judas (still confused): I want to understand. Really, I do.

God: You will, Jay. Acknowledging confusion is the first step to that.

Issa appears, sits right next to Judas

God (to Issa): Oh, you’re here. How was it?

Issa (with surprise): How was it? What a question! (turns to Judas) He’s something, isn’t He?


Consider These Things

Here are a few questions I continue struggling with over the relationship between Issa and Judas. But before addressing those, we need to remind ourselves that scholars agree that none of the Gospels were originally written by the persons to whom they are attributed, that is, not Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John; and, scholars are agreed they do not know who did write any of the Gospels; and, scholars agree the Gospels were probably written between forty to more than a hundred years after the death of Issa; and, scholars are agreed that the Gospels were almost certainly not written by eyewitnesses to the events they report; and, we do not have an original manuscript of any of the Gospels, meaning every one of the Gospels we have is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of an original manuscript; and, our copy of a copy of a copy of a copy is not originally a product of an electronic copy machine that always produces identical copies; rather, our copy of a copy of a copy of a copy is a copy of a product originally written by hand in ink by someone who was not an eyewitness on who knows what quality of paper, stored who knows where, under who knows what conditions, and later copied again, and that copy later copied again, also by hand in ink on who knows what quality of paper, stored who knows where, under who knows what conditions, all of it routinely and repeatedly subjected to the vagaries of life, including fire, flood, war, erosion, banning, prohibition, carelessness, fraud, vandalism, not to mention ordinary year-to-year aging (look in a mirror — how closely do you resemble the lump of flesh your mother produced on your birth date?). The wonder is that the material remains, and is alive, even vibrantly so.

Now, the exchange between Issa and Judas: How is it that Judas knew precisely what Issa was referring to when he ordered Judas “What you are going to do, do quickly”? I get how Issa, being Issa (John 4:29), knew what was in Judas’ mind, but how did Judas know what was in Issa’s mind? Judas obviously did know, otherwise he would have queried “Do what quickly?” At the least, he would have displayed embarrassment, even fear. But there was none of that. Issa ordered, Judas obeyed.

To me, that means Judas knew what was in Issa’s mind, and was expecting the command. And that, in turn, means that Issa and Judas must have spoken earlier. If so, are we to believe that on learning of Judas’ intention to turn in Issa to Pilate, Issa’s response was, simply, “Okay, that’s fine. I’ll tell you when to do it.” Really? Is it not more likely Issa would have said something like, “For God’s sake, do not do that! Betraying me will send you to Hell for all time.” There had to have been a conversation between the two of them. Why is that conversation not reported? At issue is, did Judas sin, or did he simply obey his Master? That is not an oh-by-way question; it is critical. That being so, why do not the Gospels address it? I have never heard it asked in Sunday School … or from a pulpit.

Further, the Gospels say that, in the midst of the event at the Last Supper, Satan entered Judas (Luke 22:3). If the Gospels writers knew it, Issa certainly knew it. After all, he had been there. (Luke 4:8) So, at that moment, why didn’t Issa command Satan, as he had done successfully before: “Get thee behind my disciple, Satan!” That is, why didn’t Issa come to Judas’ defense? Surely that’s something a Teacher, any teacher, would do, especially as loving and wondrous a Teacher as Issa. But from the report, Issa did nothing; took no notice. Really? Issa observed Satan molesting Judas, and what … nothing?

Also, why is it that none of the other eleven had any idea what Issa was talking about when he said to Judas “What you are going to do, do quickly”? Here’s John 13:28: “no one at the table knew why he (Issa) said this to him (Judas).” Why didn’t they know? Why didn’t they ask? Why did Issa keep it a secret? Why did Issa not protect Judas’ reputation by warning the other eleven that he knew what Judas was intent on doing, and that he, Issa, had approved it, or at least not forbidden it? Why didn't the Gospels writers wonder about this, and include some comment? They must have known we would wonder. Issa must have known we would wonder. Didn’t they, didn’t He, owe as much to Judas … to history, to us?

Or did King James’ team accidentally misplace that page after too much mead at lunch?

Let me be clear: I know I am repeating myself, but some issues bear repetition. Surely many of us must wonder — raised as Christian or otherwise — how is it that none of us has asked out loud, never mind tried to answer, what took place between Issa (Jesus) and Judas at the Last Supper before Issa ordered Judas “What you are going to do, do quickly!” I am now an old man. Never in my life have I heard that question raised or considered. If Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie wrote a mystery that included an unresolved blank space at a crucial moment in the story, it would have made fictional history. Critics and fans across the planet would discuss it, analyze it, decipher it, for years on end. And yet, here we are; no one notices, no one wonders, no one says anything.

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