Town Crier: Residents of Jerusalem and foreigners who are here for the holidays… the authorities of this city are in search of this man called Jesus, a peasant with a brown face, about thirty years old, tall, sporting a beard, who comes from Galilee and calls himself a prophet and Messiah. Any person who knows of his whereabouts should inform the magistrates of the Sanhedrin and he will receive a reward of sixty shekels of silver… The man is a dangerous rebel….
After that event the preceding Sunday in the Temple, when we invaded the atrium of the gentiles with shouts and palm branches, the religious leaders of the capital started to announce this news at the twelve gates of the city of David, in the market and in the barrios…
Meanwhile, old Annas, the wealthiest and most influential priest in the whole of Jerusalem, who controlled the sale of animals for sacrifice at the Temple from his palace, was conversing with his son-in-law, Joseph Caiphas, the High Priest for that year.
Caiphas: Had you been there, had you seen the confusion, you wouldn’t be looking so smug….
Annas: I’m glad I haven’t seen anything. At my age, my dear son-in-law, misgivings are dangerous.
Caiphas: We can’t take any more scandal like this. Believe me, Annas, what happened last Sunday at the Temple was something truly unfortunate.
Annas: Well, I’m just sorry about my cows. Usually in these cases, scoundrels take advantage of the confusion. Five cows of mine have disappeared with their calves. At least four dozen sheep have been lost, and this is not to include the pigeons.
Caiphas: I don’t count the money wasted on the stairs… The money changers claimed they couldn’t defend themselves from the mob….. Fools…. It was exactly at noontime, when the most money had been collected, when this agitator came and started the tumult…. Damn this Nazarene!
Annas: Anyway, my dear son-in-law, there’s no reason to worry. The notice has been posted and announced all over the place.
Caiphas: What for?… The whole city is with them. They’re hiding him. They’re protecting him.
Annas: But there’ll be always someone who will sing. Sixty shekels of silver is enough bait for someone starving to death. Take it easy, Caiphas. Don’t give too much importance to that silly farmer. Tomorrow, or Thursday at the latest perhaps, this matter will be resolved… Even if this Jesus hides himself in Sheol, we’ll get him. Now, rather than biting your nails, why don’t you meet with the members of the Sanhedrin to explain to them the “delicate situation” caused by the Nazarene? All the magistrates will support you…. You know what to do after that, my dear son-in-law…
It was Tuesday, the 11th of Nissan. Since Sunday we had been in hiding with Jesus in Bethany, in the upper story of Lazarus’ inn. Judas of Iscariot, who knew the city fully well, used to come and tell us the latest developments in the city. But that morning, it took him some time to return….
Barabbas: What the hell is your leader waiting for, Judas? What’s he thinkin’ of?… True, last Sunday’s riot at the Temple was a good blow, but that’s all. You don’t win a war with palm branches.
Judas: That’s what some of us were saying, Barabbas. But what can we do? He’s our leader, and we do whatever he says.
Barabbas: What about the cause, Judas? And our cause is over and above any one leader!
In one of the little huts in the barrio of Ophel, with closed doors and windows, Barabbas, one of the leaders of the zealot movement, was discussing with Judas of Iscariot….
Barabbas: Listen to me, Judas. You were one of us at one time. I can trust you. We, the members of the movement have spent the whole night discussing this and… and we have a plan.
Barabbas: Listen, buddy. One thing is clear. Of all the leaders we have in this country, the Nazarene is the only one who is able to mobilize people. That’s right, and we have to admit it. The leaders of the movement find difficulty admitting this, but I was able to convince them. The people find these rebels detestful because of their thirst for blood. The leaders of Perea and Judea are already sick and tired of this. Whom can we count on then?… Jesus is the only man who can make the people rise in arms, do you understand?!
Judas: Sure I do, but what does all this mean?
Barabbas: Listen, Judas. We know where to obtain a good number of swords and cudgels. We have men trained to raid the arsenal of Shiloh and the one in Antonia Tower. It’s a matter of distributing the job among ourselves and planning the assault well. You know how this thing works, once it breaks out, there’s no stopping it. Only one thing is lacking.
Judas: For Jesus to take up the sword and give the first move, is that right?
Barabbas: Exactly, Judas. Now, answer me: will Jesus do it or not?
Judas: I doubt it, Barabbas. The Moreno is… very idealistic. He says that our strength is not in weapons but in joint protests until we exhaust the patience of the Pharaoh, as Moses did in Egypt.
Barabbas: Idealistic, no, but an imbecile. I already told him when they killed John, the Baptizer. If you don’t change your style, Nazarene, you’ll suffer the same fate as the son of Zechariah.
Judas: Jesus won’t change his mind. Not for now, at least.
Barabbas: But now is our chance, Judas! It’s now or never! The city is in turmoil waiting for the signal to attack the Roman quarters!
Judas: If you wish, we can talk to Jesus to see if…
Barabbas: No, Iscariot. This is no longer the time to talk, but to act. And fast. If Jesus won’t decide, then, we will.
Judas: And what do the members of movement say to this?
Barabbas: Kill him.
Judas: How’s that again?
Barabbas: They want to kill him. To eliminate Jesus. We’ll cut off his head. Then we’ll blame it on the Romans.
Judas: But, are you out of your mind? How can you even think of this…?
Barabbas: You know nothing about politics, Judas. A dead leader can sometimes be more useful than one alive. Flags are made out of blood that has been shed, do you understand?
Judas: But, what would you get out of this…?
Barabbas: For the people to rise up in arms, dammit! In two minutes, the news will spread through all Jerusalem, and in the next two minutes, the uprising will break out! That will be the spark we’ve been awaiting for the great holocaust.
Judas: I can’t believe the movement is capable of such a thing… You wouldn’t do such a lowly thing, would you… Barabbas?
Barabbas: It’s you who’ll do it, Judas. We’re counting on you. You know where the Nazarene has gone into hiding. You’re one of them.
Judas: Am I hearing right, or…? Are you insinuating something, Barabbas?!
Barabbas: I’m not insinuating anything, Iscariot. I’m telling you, very clearly, how things are. Jesus is more useful dead. And you are in the best position to carry out this plan.
Judas: Dammit! Hearing you talk makes me hate you, Barabbas! Goodbye. You can’t make me kill a buddy. Much less Jesus.
Barabbas: Wait a minute, Judas. Take it easy. Try to understand the movement.
Judas: I’m sorry, Barabbas. I don’t betray my friends.
Barabbas: Why do you say friend?
Judas: What else?
Barabbas: Yeah. It’s not betrayal, but strategy. Someone has to die for the people, for the country. Understand this, Judas!
That afternoon of Tuesday, the high priest, Joseph Caiphas called an urgent meeting of the chief magistrates of Jerusalem…
Caiphas: Please try to understand, illustrious members of the Sanhedrin. This is a serious matter and we must make a fast decision. It is about the fanatic called Jesus, who, many of you must have heard, has been much talked about. A man of the worst type, a rebel against Rome, who blasphemes against the Temple: an agitator, a conspirator and… and besides, an imbecile. Only a fool would try to bring down a wall by throwing tomatoes at it.
A Magistrate: It is my opinion, your excellency, that we take drastic action on this matter. The leper, the unclean and the rebel must be isolated from the community at the soonest possible moment.
Jeconiah: I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. The city is teeming with pilgrims right now. The people are very restless with the new taxes. Let us wait for the holidays to pass. Then, everything would be easier and less noisy.
Another Magistrate: I agree with my colleague, Jeconiah! Besides, it is not for us to arrest this rebel. We will be criticized by the people. Let Governor Pilate take care of him.
Another Magistrate: Governor Pilate is tired of putting up crosses for our messiahs! He wants no more trouble!
Jeconiah: On the contrary, Pilate seeks a new excuse to continue robbing the Temple treasury!
Caiphas: Illustrious colleagues, don’t speak that way of the Governor. Pontius Pilate has his little foibles, it’s true, but he is a prudent man and has always supported us in governing this province… Personally, I believe if we simply leave this Nazarene rebel alone, it would make Governor Pilate nervous and he just might inform Caesar. His friend, Sejanus in Rome doesn’t look well at our people. He could give orders to invade Jerusalem and sack the Temple. Don’t you think it easier to get rid of one man than risk the peace and order of our country?
All: Yes, yes, you’re right, your excellency! This rebel must die!
Caiphas: I’m glad we have agreed on this decision. It is better for one man to die in order to save the whole nation.
At that same hour, in a small hut in Ophel…
Zealot: Fine, Judas. I understand your reasons and… your feelings. Why don’t we come to an agreement? It won’t be necessary to shed the blood of the Nazarene, as Barabbas, our comrade proposed.
Judas: So what’s it this time?
Zealot: To get him arrested will be enough. Jesus is so popular. When the people get to know about it, they’ll all take to the streets.
Judas: And what does the movement want from me?
Zealot: Aren’t you aware of the announcement by the magistrates of the Sanhedrin? They’re after Jesus.
Judas: They’ll never find him. We have him well hidden.
Zealot: Yeah, Judas. Sooner or later, they’ll find him. They’ll put him in jail once the pilgrims have gone, and things will never be the same. You’ve got to understand, Judas. Now is the time. Jerusalem is crammed with people. We can’t afford to miss this chance.
Judas: And you want me to squeal on him, is that right?
Zealot: Listen, Judas. Set aside your sentimentalism and try to be reasonable. It’s necessary to have Jesus arrested during these holidays. Don’t be scared. Before they put him on the cross, the uprising will have broken out. The first thing we’ll do is free the prisoners who are rotting in the dungeons of the Antonia Tower. Trust us, buddy. We’ll bring back your beloved leader safe and sound. The movement promises you that.
Judas: If I say yes, what would I have to do?
Zealot: Your mission would be a little unpleasant… but necessary. You’ll have to go see the chief commandant of the Temple and tell him the hiding place of Jesus.
Judas: In other words, I’d squeal on him.
Zealot: No, Judas, you’ll be a true fighter up to the last. Come on, decide for yourself. Go to those sons of bitches and tell them where the Nazarene is. If they reward you with money, accept it. This comedy should be played well.
Judas: It’s the price of treason.
Zealot: No, Judas, it’s the price of the revolution. So, what?… Can we count on you?… or not?
Commandant: What’s your name?
Judas: Judas… Judas of Iscariot.
Commandant: What do you want?
Judas: I know… I know where the man is.
Commandant: You don’t say!… Look, a number have come giving false information, and I am not about to mobilize my men, just to go after ghosts.
Judas: You can trust me… I am… I’m one of them.
Commandant: Oh yeah?… That’s better…. Where’s your leader?
Judas: You can’t get him now. He’s surrounded with people. I’ll inform you at the right time.
Commandant: Don’t worry, because you’ll go with us too. If you’re lying, we’ll cut off your head. Do you understand?
Commandant: Here, take it, parrot. This is one half in advance. Thirty shekels of silver…. You’ll get the other half once we have the man in our hands. Now, beat it!….. Puah… Poor souls… selling their own leader for a few shekels….
Judas of Iscariot left the palace of the high priest, Caiphas, and vanished into one of the dark and narrow streets of the city of Jerusalem….
Judas: Old fool… when the people rise in arms, you’ll remember me…!
The episode in the Temple may well summarize the whole prophetic activity of Jesus. For months Jesus’ life was lived in a tense climate, filled with an increasing distrust on the part of the Roman and Jewish powers. In the face of such a society, Jesus took a clear stand. In this episode in the Temple, he obviously manifested whose side he was on, and whose side God was on, since he was God’s messenger. Jesus was not an ethereal being who distanced himself from the rest of humanity. He took sides and in so doing, he clashed with the leaders who, from that moment on, joined forces in order to get rid of him.
If the events of the Temple had put the authorities on their toes, Jesus, from that time on, also tried to make himself less visible, as a matter of precaution. One can never insist enough that the passion of Jesus was not one of fatal destiny that the Son of God had to fulfill in this world, but it was a historical event with specific culprits, who acted freely in killing Jesus. Jesus, in the step he undertook during those days of tension and conflict, likewise acted freely. He made a choice. Filled with trust he took the risk.
If we are to see the passion of Jesus as something historical and therefore, circumstancial, then Judas’ betrayal must likewise be recovered from the total fatalism with which it has traditionally been interpreted. We will never know at a distance of two thousand years, the soul of Judas, a man who shared much with Jesus during his prophetic days. If we make him the archetype of evil, the absolute Evil, that he was born “only to betray,” the devil himself, we gravely mutilate the historical reality of the events that happened during “those days” in Jerusalem. The reason for Judas’ betrayal is shown in this episode as a matter of political “tactic,” which is in consonance with the ideology of the zealots, a group to which in all probability, he belonged. It is a manner of giving a “down-to-earth” character to this betrayal, of removing it from the realm of fatalism, assuming that it simply depended on the sole ambitious motive of receiving a reward of 30 pieces of silver…. We have to see in Judas the man of flesh and blood and not a puppet whose strings are controlled from above by a terrible God who predestined the betrayal in order to kill his own son.
The zealots were not bloodthirsty revolutionaries. Neither can we identify them, no less, with a political party, as we understand the term nowadays. Their ideology took root in a profound religious tradition by which Israel understood their country to be a holy land which could not be suppressed by foreigners. They were known for their passionate nationalism and intense spirituality based on the very spirituality of the prophets. In their mode of action, they distinguished themselves for their zeal to immediately free Israel from Roman domination. Tactically, they were “impatient.” Their option was to use arms. Ideologically, they were perhaps the group which most clearly represented the infinite thirst for freedom which Israel experienced during the last centuries of her history. All this explains their coincidence with Jesus in many things. They saw their own aspirations in him, and at the same time were fascinated by the popular charisma of the Galilean prophet, and determined to take immediate action. All these also contributed – as this episode suggests – in giving rise to Jesus’ condemnation to death, suggesting that Judas’ betrayal was a strategy that would lead to a popular uprising. For the zealots, the events in the Temple had to be decisive, which they interpreted as the prelude to the much-awaited definitive insurrection.
Jesus always remained independent of the various groups at play in the political drama of that time. At the end of his life, the ruling forces wishing to get rid of him, converged with other organized popular groups – such as zealots – who wanted “to use him.” According to the plan presented in this episode, the final plan where “a man must die for his people” focuses the enormous freedon of Jesus and the risk which at times cannot be foreseen, in the radicalization of revolutionary groups as they aim to realize their goals in a short time and thereby detach themselves from reality.
Judas’ betrayal and the responsibility of the zealots or other popular groups in the death of Jesus should not make us forget that historically, maximum culpability for Jesus’ death rests on the religious authorities of Jerusalem, who allied themselves with the Roman imperial power. Caiphas, the high priest, and his counterparts, the wealthiest and most influential men of Jerusalem, were the great culprits.
(Mt 26:14-16; Mk 14:1-2; Lk 22:1-6; Jn 11:45-57)