We’d all had a skinful; the books don’t tell you that.
‘Exhausted from sorrow.’ That, at least, was true.
It started as a celebration, friends at dinner,
food and wine, and more wine. Songs of praise
and heartfelt prayer. Then something seemed to change.
Our friend grew solemn, spoke of death, betrayal,
the end of all we knew. He prophesied
the scattering of the brothers, persecution
and told us he would have to go away.
No wonder we were drunk; it was too much
to take, and wine would dull our frightened senses.
Do I recall it right? He did a magic trick
with bread. It seemed to bleed, accusing us
of murder, desecration, greed and weakness.
We would have cried ourselves to sleep, but he
requested that we walk with him a while.
The night was balmy; chill winds would have strengthened
our resolve and kept us waking. Flesh is weak
and, oh, the scent of that sweet garden lulled
our dull minds. When he woke us
we felt his sorrow that his friends should so
abandon him. So when the rabble came
I ached to make amends. I heard him say,
‘Do you betray the Son of Man with kisses?’
and whisper, ‘Well done, Judas’ in his ear.
I knew then that my brother had been given
a task I could not execute. Yes, I was good with words
when called to answer, ‘Who do you say I am?’
and good with actions as I drew my sword
and severed a man’s ear, but when it came
to doing what he wished, my master chose
another, knowing I was just a fool
and would have baulked at seeming to pervert
his will. He got that right. The books
told half the truth; how I disowned my master
from naked fear, and how he still forgave me.
But Judas was himself betrayed. They said
he hanged himself, but how could that be true?
Who saw him? John alone was there
of all of us when Jesus walked away
and Luke and Mark were not among our band.
History needs a villain, and Judas was the man.
Was Matthew in the temple when he flung
the silver in disgust upon the floor?
I know not, but it haunts me. He was chosen
and he did the master’s will. That he should
despair and take his life appears quite senseless
but no-one seems to want to know the truth
and I am burdened with his betrayal, too.
First published in ‘Reach’