The Other Judas
By Irma Gomés Danel
Generally when we hear the words “Judas’ kiss”, we think of betrayal. It is almost unquestionable that one of Jesus’ disciples earned the biblical reputation of “the one who handed the Son of God to the Roman soldiers”. “Hey, wait a minute! How can a student of such great master can hand in his teacher? Why? He handed him with a kiss, and the teacher accepted this kiss. Why didn’t he point him out to the soldiers from the distance?” Personally I had never further questioned this biblical episode. Judas sold his teacher for some silver coins. And history carried on.
I had never thought again of Judas Iscariot until I bumped into “The Lost Gospel” by Herbert Krosney at a bookshelf in Gatwick airport. My flight had been delayed and I was looking for a book in english before I arrived in France. The book is hardcover and heavy but I decided it was worth carrying it.
Two millennia had passed, and the tyrant of the story had finally given a chance to explain himself. Why did he turn in his Lama? Were the cops really looking for Jesus? Were the Romans afraid of his influence in the masses? Did other rabbis wanted him out of the panorama? Why would he take 30 silver coins, no more, no less?
One can only imagine the relationship of Jesus with his closest students. One of admiration, respect and acquiescence. I think the apostles were practicing very closely what in Buddhism we call Guru Yoga: taking yourself to your Lama, in a perfect way. No room for pride, anger or jealousy. Some of his disciples quit their jobs, left their homes and just followed him. Lord Buddha would travel across India with his closest disciples, too. Being a groupie was part of their Lama Devotion: if your teacher tells you “leave what you are doing and come follow me” that is what you do.
Jesus was called Rabbi, which is derived from the hebrew root-word Rav, which in biblical hebrew means "great" or "distinguished (in knowledge)". As such he would deliver sermons –speaking in parables- to the general public, and according to the tradition at the time, he would then explain deeper meanings of his words only to his closer disciples. Perhaps he would debate them with his new ideas and he would make them get deeper into the teachings’ core. Only a few men and women would be revealed, slowly, how the Kingdom works.
Jesus always talked about love; if there is a taste to all canonical gospels, it would have to be Love. Love thy neighbour without holding anything back. Our lamas say love all beings like a mother loves her only child. With love is easy to practice giving; one never questions how many of our favourite chocolates we should give to our loved ones. It seems like the more they eat, the happier we are. Perhaps that is why mothers over-feed their children. When you are in love, it is harder to get impatient, angry; on the contrary, the longer the line is to buy tickets, the more time you get to hold hands with your special loved one. To understand love, the Iscariot probably did a lot of contemplation and prayer, and would go to his Lama and ask questions.
So I like to think that Judas’ lama was teaching him about enlightenment, how to reach a state of ultimate bliss, where there is no pain and things are so perfect and so beautiful it can only be perceived with the eyes of the heart. I think of the kingdom of heaven as a sort of Disneyland to the 1000th power. A pure land: no room for defects.
To get to heaven we need to collect both merit and wisdom. The merit part is that one based on love and compassion. This is the New Testament’s message. Wisdom or Sophia, in greek, is not as evident in the canonical gospels.
The Sophia transmission was written and explained in other books, the ones studied by the Gnostics and the Valentinians, two branches of Christianity that only lasted a couple of centuries, as they were prosecuted and their books destroyed. Sophia is the flavour of the Gnostic gospels found in the Nag Hammadi texts last century.
The gospel of Judas Iscariot is also a Gnostic one. In here, Jesus says to Judas,
“(come), that I may teach you about (secrets) no person (has) ever seen. There is a great boundless eternal reality, whose extent no generation of angels has seen… since it is great … invisible… no thought of the heart was ever comprehended, and it was never called by any name”
Jesus then would explain how prayer works, how seeds ripen, what the real Sophia is, and how all this, if practiced with ease and on a regular basis in meditation, could lead to the first definite step on the way to heaven: perfect communion with God, with ultimate reality; the state of mind where there is no distinction between subject and object.
Judas appears to have followed his teacher’s words, for in his Gospel, Jesus says:
“Judas, your star has led you astray. No person of mortal birth is worthy to enter the house you have seen, for that place is reserved for the holy”
He was a top notch student. His teacher had trusted him with his finances, and he served and followed his teacher. Perhaps he was in charge of going to the local restaurant and arrange food and drinks for when his Rabbi was finished teaching. Those of us who have been involved -even slightly- in organizing a teacher’s travels and logistics under a budget, we know this is not an easy task. But as treasurer he had done a good job, and he was on his way to the promised kingdom, but clearly he had more goodness to collect before he could see it. And so, one day, the Rabbi said to him
“You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me”
And just like that, his final exam came. His beloved Rabbi has asked him to call the cops on him; he was not asked to write a grisly article on the newspaper, nor was he asked to raise funds for a new temple by the lake. He was asked to do one of the hardest things: to give away his most precious jewel, to someone who would destroy it.
If Jesus wanted to be crucified, he could have gotten himself in trouble to get arrested. He could have asked a random person to turn him in, but he didn’t. He asked Judas to do it.
Then the Son of God announced in “The Last Supper” –probably arranged and paid by Judas himself- what was about to happen. He handed a piece of bread to Judas and asked him to do as he had asked him.
And he did. Perhaps he knew all the other disciples would stop speaking to him, that he would be known as the betrayer. And all this was part of the teaching. He needed this test to fly higher. Who knows if he cried all the way to the police station. Perhaps he thought of leaving the country. But he kept walking slowly, downhill, towards the soldier’s quarters, comforted by a warm breeze and the moon’s glow. He had to pass this test, as his faultless Rabbi knew better.
Our teachers are perfect. Their minds are perfect, and so are their words. Sometimes they speak figuratively and sometimes they don’t. But they love us and they know what it takes to get us to paradise. So they ask us to do things for them. Je Tsongkhapa asked one of his students to start many monasteries across Tibet. Some other Lamas ask their students to build them a house, or a temple, to do a long retreat, or to work on a project. Some of us are asked to keep our vows and do yoga, and sometimes, just to keep our mouth shut. Each teacher speaks to the disciple’s level. Some of us need to take baby steps. But there will come a time when we may need to run up a downward-going escalator.
There are two Judas: the traitor who sold his teacher for some silver coins, and the perfect student who did what his teacher asked.
And there are as many passions of Christ as there were disciples. They each had a different teaching, a different test that would get them to heaven.
And as I re-examine our own teacher’s tests, I can’t help but wonder, how close to the Kingdom we really are?
Krosney, Herbert The Lost Gospel National Geographic Society publications, 2006