This morning the task was to discuss the story of Judas betraying Jesus with two separate groups of high school students.
We read John’s version, where the soldiers, police and Pharisees went after Jesus with lanterns, torches and weapons. Later, Simon Peter took out a sword and, before Jesus could tell him to put it away, he cut the ear off a slave named Malchus.
I held a tamer version of this story in my mind. When I pictured the betrayal moment, the sun was out, birds were chirping, and Jesus was praying quietly. Maybe the disciples were lounging on a blanket around a basket of food. When the authorities came, knowing what was to come, Jesus moved peacefully into their custody after an intimate kiss from his friend identified him. The arrest, in my mind, held a similar image to one I’ve seen on the news of rich white men being taken under custody for a white collar crime. Jesus is prepared and does not make a fuss for the cameras.
The torch- and weapon-bearing mob adds a darkness, a layer that makes us nauseous. The students likened the scene to Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, or Phantom of the Opera where a disgruntled group becomes certain that a misunderstood beast/man needs to die for our safety. A witch hunt. Or the horrendously violent moments of lynchings or public shaming overpopulating our past.
What about Jesus pushed the group to decide that he must certainly die?
He challenged what they believed.
He threatened their authority.
They didn’t understand him, they said.
We spoke of betrayal, and why Dante may have put Judas and Brutus in the lowest circle of hell for their actions.
If you can’t trust your best friend, they said, who can you trust?
Betrayal steals and strips,
shifts your entire worldview,
invites you to live small.
What does this story tell us about us?
We are capable of ugliness.
We cling to maintain our power.
We can be moved to horror by money.
We guard our status quo system of beliefs, at times, above all else.
We spoke of the latest school shooting in Florida. Is this betrayal? I asked.
Yes, they said quickly. Then added: By the government. By adults.
The shooter betrayed his classmates, yes, but he had been betrayed too, by society. His choice takes something from us all, but the betrayal is deeper than his actions.
We should be able to trust that our classmates won’t kill us at school.
Counselors tell us we can come see them, but they also tell us they have a waiting list. Nothing changes.
Other countries don’t have this problem.
We shouldn’t have to lead the movement out of this, but we will.