I.

Who is there?

No one.

Do I know you?

Do you?

Don’t answer my question with a question! Who are you?

A friend.

I have had enough of friends.

I think you have had enough of many things.

Who are you?

That doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I have come to offer my services.

In what way can you do me a service?

In whatever way you choose.

Anything I choose?

Anything. Anything at all. Even so much as nothing. If that is what you want, it is yours. Nothingness, Judas, a rare gift indeed.

Who are you!

I am no one.

Then just a figment of my imagination. Is that it?

If that is what you wish, then it is so.

In the past my imagination was never this vivid.

No. No it wasn’t. Yet, you are beginning to see a lot of things more clearly, more vividly now. Aren’t you?

Yes. Yes, I am.

Have you heard? 

What?

The crowd is turning against Him. The Sanhedrin smells blood.

How do you know?

I know the mob. I know men. They adore a hero. But they adore more seeing a hero fall.

He is not yet fallen.

True. Not yet.

He doesn’t realize He is losing his appeal.

Such a fool.

Yes. Anyone with eyes can see things are changing. He is losing control.

The mob is unhappy. He protects whores and wastes expensive ointments on Himself. He tells the people to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

He has betrayed the people. He has betrayed His own ideals.

Exactly. Imagine telling the poor to pay taxes? Imagine telling patriots to be meek and submissive? He has lost the poor and the zealots and the prudes. Who is left to protect Him?

Me. I am His friend. The mob doesn’t frighten me.

Nothing frightens you, does it, Judas? Except perhaps…

Except what?

Not what. Whom.

Who?

He frightens you.

No! I don’t fear Him. Not at all. I am afraid of nothing. Not even death.

Good, because this may end in death. Some say He must die.

That is not my plan.

But He may die nonetheless.

That is His choice. He can live if He so chooses. His blood will not be on my hands.

What of your own death? I see in you a dark desiring. 

I will not die either. I yearn to live, not die. You are mistaken. I just want to breathe free.

As you say, so it shall be. It is good, very good, if you want to live.

Good? Why good?

Because it is hard to bargain with the dead.

Who are you?

What shall I say, Judas? What answer will assure you? What name will assuage you? I am whomever and whatever you need me to be. Tell me, how can I help you?

I don’t need your help!

Brave words.

Have you come to mock me?

There are already enough who do that.

Why won’t you tell me who you are?

If I knew for certain, perhaps I would. But as I’ve said, it doesn’t matter. Come, Judas, let’s talk.

Talk?

Yes, let’s explore the possibilities that lie before us. Let’s be practical and consider our options.

Yes, He is never practical. He never weighs His options. There are always options. We are free to choose.

That’s right. Nothing is predestined. Nothing is already written. Let us see what is to be done.

Yes, what should be done?

No, not what should be done. Rather, what must be done. We are practical men; we are honorable men; we see clearly the world as it is.

So, you are a man. A man just like me.

No, not just like you. But we do have much in common. Let us see where we can go from here. From here, together.

II.

Another day passes. The time of decision draws near. Be daring. Be bold. Be free. 

Free?

Yes, free. Free to be you. Free to breathe!

He suffocates me!

I know. His embrace is like a vise. Ever tightening. Remorseless. Suffocating!

They’re meeting tonight.

I know. Good men, worried and concerned men.

Nonsense. Few of them are good men. And some are evil. Some are ambitious. Almost all of them are petty and self-serving. Some even are secretly employed by the Romans.

You are right. But you are not like that.

Aren’t I?

No, you aren’t. Yes, of course, you have ambition, but you are not overly ambitious. Yes, you appreciate the value of money, but you are not excessively greedy. But mostly, mostly, you are genuinely concerned, you are sincerely worried, you are unsure how this will end or even how it should end.

I am not like them. I will not be part of their plot. I just want the truth.

You will not learn the truth standing still.

You think I should join them?

No, don’t join them. Never! They are beneath you; they are not concerned for the people as you are. They are contemptible.

Then what?

Just go and listen. Don’t speak at all. And don’t be fooled by their words; just listen to their message. Don’t do anything, but listen. Just watch and listen. There is no harm in listening to what they have to say. To better understand the situation. 

I need to get away from Him.

There is only one way to escape his grasp, Judas. You know that is true.

I can just leave. Walk away. Flee and go far from here. Perhaps to Antioch, even all the way to Rome.

You know He will follow you wherever you go. You know he will never relent. He thinks you belong to Him, Judas. He won’t let go. Not ever. He loves you.

Loves me? That is ridiculous. He prefers that blustering fool Simon and dotes on that half-man John. Loves me? What nonsense! He never loved me. He never appreciated me. He never…

He never confided in you His most intimate secrets and plans. He never considered you one of his inner circle.

Instead, He scolded me for chastising that whore! He chooses the easily-purchased affection of a whore over me, His most trusted comrade.

Even great men can be fooled and can trust in the wrong people. He should have treated you better and trusted you more. You would never betray Him.

Yes, yes, exactly! He doesn’t trust me! He doesn’t love me! Not really, not fully and completely! But don’t think I will betray Him. He is my friend.

He has already betrayed you in a dozen ways. Humiliating you in front of that whore. Choosing Peter over you as his second-in-command. Accusing you of loving money too much. Over and over again, he has set you apart for criticism. You. Only you. The others He loves more.

Still, I will not betray Him. I am not like the others; at least He can always count on me.

And yet, His love frightens you. You feel trapped by it. As you put it, you can hardly breathe. His love is suffocating. It is deadly. You feel less yourself whenever He is nearby. He overshadows everything else; you cannot grow—nothing can grow—in His shadow. You can never be you for as long as He is.

What can I do? How can I save myself?

No, Judas, this is not just a matter of saving yourself. You are not that selfish and self-serving. How can you save all of them? How can you save even Him? He needs you more now than ever. He needs you to move out of His shadow and into the light. To see reality. To see this world as it is and to save Him from Himself.

III.

I didn’t want the money. It was never about the money.

And yet.

And yet, I took it.

Yes, you did.

I didn’t want them to beat Him. It was never about revenge.

And yet.

And yet, they stripped Him, beat Him, paraded Him about like a trained monkey, with a ludicrous crown of thorns on His head. I had to laugh seeing Him brought so low.

Had to?

Yes, had to! He was always so self-righteous. So self-assured. So self-confident. He finally learned what the real world is all about and His role in it.

He learned He has no role here at all.

It’s a lesson He ought to have learned long ago. I tried to explain it to Him, but He wouldn’t listen. Now it is too late for Him.

Did you enjoy watching Him die?

I didn’t watch Him die; I wasn’t there. I kept my distance.

You always kept your distance, didn’t you? You never let Him get completely inside you. You were wiser than those other fools.

Only the women stayed to the end. Only the women and that half-man.

Not even Simon Peter was among them?

Not even! His favorite, His Rock turned to sand and blew away in the tumult. The half-man stayed, but not the half-wit Peter. Peter was always and will always be a coward.

Were you also a coward? Were you afraid to watch Him die?

No, not afraid of that at all. But I kept my distance. I heard his screams. I heard him cry like a little boy who finally realizes it’s time to grow up. But I saw nothing.

So, He was not so great after all. Just another human afraid of pain and fearing death. 

Yes, just a human. Just…

If you weren’t afraid, why keep your distance?

I was afraid. But not of watching Him die. That would be easy after all He did to me.

Then what scared you?

I feared that I would pity Him. That I would regret informing the high priests of where to find Him.

No regrets then?

A sane man does not regret what he needs to do. I had no real choice. I will not regret doing what had to be done.

And you did it. You really did it. You won.

No. It didn’t work. It just didn’t work.

What, what didn’t work?

When I kissed Him in the garden…

You kissed Him? As you betrayed Him! Now that is delicious! How did He react? What did He do? The look on His face must have been priceless.

Priceless? More so, fathomless. He kissed me back. He sensed the mob with their torches and clubs gathering around. And all He looked at was me.

He was surprised?

I don’t know. His eyes. His eyes. He looked at me!

So?

He looked at me and I knew He loved me! Damn Him. Damn you. Damn me! He still loves me. I haven’t escaped. I haven’t escaped at all.

There is only one true escape.

What escape? I cannot bear this any longer. His love is like a festering sore. His love surrounds me and suffocates me; it chains me to Him against my will.

Only the dark can save you. Hide from yourself and Him in the dark. He cannot follow you into that dark nothingness that you crave.

Is it really that simple? I just kill myself and He will be gone?

Not quite. He will never be fully gone. But you will stop feeling Him and you will stop even knowing you.

Such a wondrous gift you offer! This gift of nothingness. Yes, you were right from the beginning. That is what I need. To not be is the best one can be.

Here. Take this rope. It is well-suited for your neck.

But this rope will only kill my body; I will still exist and remember for eternity how He looked at me.

Don’t worry about that. There is a nowhere where He cannot descend… unless you ask it of Him. Do not ask and His Will is powerless against your will.

But what if…

Take the rope. No more thinking. It is time for the man of action. The man who truly controls his own destiny. Take the rope.

He still loves me.

Take the rope.

And I love Him still! So much! So very much!

Take the rope.

It feels tight around my throat.

Just a little tighter now. Freedom is almost yours.

I can’t breathe. The darkness is suffocating. The darkness is crushing me. I want to live. I want His love. I hate Him!

It is accomplished.

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We hope you will join us in The Imaginative Conservative community. The Imaginative Conservative is an online journal for those who seek the True, the Good and the Beautiful. We address culture, liberal learning, politics, political economy, literature, the arts, and the American Republic in the tradition of Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot, Edmund Burke, Irving Babbitt, Wilhelm Roepke, Robert Nisbet, Richard Weaver, M.E. Bradford, Eric Voegelin, Christopher Dawson, Paul Elmer More, and other leaders of Imaginative Conservatism. Some conservatives may look at the state of Western culture and the American Republic and see a huge dark cloud which seems ready to unleash a storm that may well wash away what we most treasure of our inherited ways. Others focus on the silver lining which may be found in the next generation of traditional conservatives who have been inspired by Dr. Kirk and his like. We hope that The Imaginative Conservative answers T.S. Eliot’s call to “redeem the time, redeem the dream.” The Imaginative Conservative offers to our families, our communities, and the Republic, a conservatism of hope, grace, charity, gratitude, and prayer.

Editor’s Note: The featured image is “Conscience, Judas” (1891) by Nikolai Ge (1831-1894), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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