It was about noontime. Together with a multitude of pilgrims from Galilee and neighbors from Jerusalem, all crammed into the space in front of the Antonia Fortress, we continued shouting, demanding freedom for Jesus…
Centurion: If they don’t stop, I’ll order my lancers to pierce them like they do the dogs!
The cenutrion’s threat was futile. Not even the rain, persistently dropping over the city of David, drenching everything and soaking us to the bones, succeeded in stopping us… The sky was completely sealed, as well as the windows and doors of the Roman fortress, where Pontius Pilate, the Governor, shielded himself.
Centurion: Governor, the people are getting more agitated.
Pilate: You need not tell me, centurion. I can hear them from here.
Centurion: Shall I disperse them, Governor?
Pilate: Yes, and never let them assemble again! They’re like a plague of mosquitoes. You kill one, and a hundred more come. You kill a hundred, and a thousand follow!… Stubborn fools!… I’m sick and tired of these people. For seven years, I’ve been nailing them on crosses, silencing their lips with soil and stones, but to no avail: Damn these people!
Centurion: Shall I disperse them, Governor…?
Pilate: What the hell is happening here? I already released one prisoner, whom they clamored for…. What more do they want?
Centurion: The same thing, Governor. Those behind are demanding freedom for this guy from Nazareth. Those in front want him dead.
Pilate: Well, let them agree, so they can leave me in peace. Deliver the prisoner to them. Let them do what they want with him.
At that same hour, in a little hut in Barrio Ophel, Judas, from Iscariot, was arguing with one of the zealot leaders…
Judas: That’s what you promised me, and you can’t backtrack now!
Zealot: But Judas, comrade, try to understand. Fifty of our men have been hurt in front of Herod’s palace. They even slashed the hands of a little boy. I saw it myself.
Judas: I don’t care what you’ve seen, you promised me…
Zealot: The city was not like it is today. Jerusalem now is like a garrison. There are more soldiers now than ever before. Much more than those who, from the towers of Siloh, had taken to the streets. Once you move….
Judas: Right now, in front of the Antonia Tower there are thousands protesting. All they need are weapons. Where are they? Now’s the time to do something!
Zealot: Now is the time to keep cool, Judas, and wait for the holidays to pass.
Judas: Damn it, you yourselves had said we had to take the opportunity!
Zealot: That’s right, but you see, we’ve changed our plans, buddy…. We’ve got to be realistic.
Judas: Realistic?… cowards! That’s what you are, a bunch of cowards and traitors. You betrayed me… I gave away my chief, because it was necessary to awaken the people… What shall I do now? What shall I do now?!
Zealot: Easy now, Judas. Of course you did what you could…. so did we. But politics is like gambling, you know. Sometimes you win, other times you lose.
Judas: And this game has cost the life of a man, do you hear?
Zealot: I’m sorry, believe me, my friend. I’m really sorry, Jesus was a good man, that’s right, but now… but now, we can’t do anything for him….
Judas: Damn all of you! If you can’t do anything, then I will do something, and you’ll see…!
Zealot: Wait, buddy, wait…!
Governor Pilate slammed the door and hurriedly descended the stairs of the fortress. He headed for the paved courtyard, where we had been shouting outrageously for quite some time…. The Governor was also furious… The uproar heightened as we saw him come…
A Man: Freedom for Jesus! Freedom for the prisoners!
John: Pilate will have to give in!
Magdalene: Or else his ears will explode with so much screaming. Damn, they’ll have to release the Moreno!… Mary, stop weeping and shout with us, c’mon!
John: Don’t despair, Mary. They can’t do anything to Jesus… that’s why we’re here!
More and more people joined us in front of the gates of the Antonia Fortress… Mary, Jesus’ mother, and the other Mary, the Magdalene, were with us, one on each side… We tried to move forward, from among that sea of faces, but the hired group of the priests and the soldiers’ barricade prevented us from advancing…
Magdalene: Demons, how much do you think these dirty slobs were paid?
John: Let them scream, Magdalene. We are the majority! Pilate will have to listen to us!
A Man: Hey, friend, they say the Governor has ordered the release of the Nazarene!
Magdalene: Really, countryman?
Man: That’s right, I think they’re bringing him out!
Magdalene: We told you, Mary. The stone has finally melted…!
John: Look, look, they’re opening the door…!
We still didn’t know that Jesus had been tortured and subjected to lashings. That’s why, when the little door facing the dungeons of the tower was opened and we saw him appear, we covered our faces in horror… I shall never forget that moment… Mary, who was beside me, became livid and held on to my arm firmly to avoid falling… No, that almost lifeless being could never have been Jesus… Two soldiers dragged him along, supporting him beneath his arms… leaving him in the middle of the patio. Everyone kept silent before that bent figure with a crown of thorns on his head, and a red cloak over his naked and bloodstained body… Jesus, who could hardly stand, tried to look up, in vain… Pontius Pilate approached him and with the tip of his sword held close to his chin, lifted his head for everyone to see the prisoner….
Pilate: This is the man!… You can have him, he’s all yours… Do whatever you wish with this trash and bother me no more!
Then he pushed Jesus brutally toward the mob that was crowding the huge iron doors… A loud, deafening cry was heard…. We, from the back, tried to break away from the soldiers’ barricade, shouting and raising our fists, finding our way to rescue him… But it was all futile… The hired group from the first row, like enraged beasts at the smell of blood, lunged at Jesus, pushing him back again toward the Tilings…
Hired Group: Crucify him, crucify him!!
Jesus slid through the wet tiles of the patio, and fell on the floor. He was like a beaten dog, his back showing a mass of raw flesh, even some of his ribs sticking out….
Hired Group: Crucify him, crucify him!
As the tumult heightened, the Roman troops tightened their shields and lifted their lances, as they awaited orders from the Governor…
Judas: They’re going to kill Jesus… but only after I cut off the heads of a dozen of these swine…!
Shortly after leaving the hut of the zealot leader, Judas, trembling with rage, rushed toward the palace of the high priest Caiphas, in search of the commandant of the Temple guards.
Commandant: We were waiting for you, little parrot. What? Do you need the other thirty pieces of silver?
Judas: I came to return these…
Judas threw the pieces of silver and drew a knife from underneath his robe…
Judas: …and to kill all of you!
He attacked the commandant of the guards… He was driven mad and he did not know what he was doing… After some moments of struggling, the commandant seized the knife from him and kicked him out the door….
Commandant: Get out of here, imbecile!… Are you having regrets?… The bird is now in his cage… and the rest… that’s your own problem!
The Roman soldiers, armed with lances and clubs, were able to control the avalanche of people as we tried to push from behind to enter the paved patio… Pontius Pilate went from one end of the tribunal to the other, getting more and more irritated with the situation… Those in front, who were paid by the priests and the magistrates, came face to face with the Governor…
A Man: This man is blasphemous, he ought to die!
Hired Group: Crucify him, crucify him!
A Woman: He made a mockery of the Temple!
Another Man: He calls himself king of the Jews!
Pilate: If he is your king, then take him away and leave me in peace!
A Woman: Our king is Caesar in Rome! If you release him, you might find yourself in trouble with Rome!
Hired Group: Crucify him, crucify him!
Pilate: I’ve had enough, you sons of bitches, enough!!
Governor Pilate violently folded the whip in his hands and furiously faced the mob…
Pilate: He will be crucified, yes, he will be crucified, and may the fires of hell gobble him up and all of you!
Amid shouts and curses of the crowd, Pontius Pilate ascended the platform and sat in the tribunal chair, on whose high back the figure of the Roman eagle, golden and resplendent, spread its wings…
Pilate: Scribe, bring the small board immediately!
The scribe gave it to him. The Governor marked it with the seal of his ring and gave it back. Then the scribe signalled the town crier, who read the sentence aloud, atop a small stone bench…
Town Crier: “The Governor of Judea, representative in this province of the Emperor, Tiberius, condemns to death this rebel called Jesus, for the serious crime of conspiracy against the Roman authority. I, Pontius Pilate, do affix my signature, in this city of Jerusalem, this day, Friday, the 14th month of Nissan.”
Judas learned about the sentence while running toward the Antonia Fortress. He was told that Jesus was beaten to a pulp. He felt the earth opening up beneath his feet… He dared not proceed to the fortress… He ran through the wet streets and out of the city, crossing the Cedron bridge… Breathlessly, he reached the garden where a few hours before, he had seen Jesus for the last time, after which he had delivered him to the Temple guards….
Judas: How did it turn out like this?… Why?… Jesus, my comrade, forgive me… Forgive me and let me be gone before you…
Nobody saw the tears of Judas. No one was there with him when he pulled out from his waist the rope he used to adorn his robe; when he climbed an olive tree, tied the robe to one of its twisted branches and, after making a knot, passed it through his neck…
Judas: God!… Oh God!… If you are a Father, as Jesus used to say, you will understand me…!
He said no more. He leaped and hanged himself… He was still wearing the yellow scarf around his neck, a present for a grandson of one of the Maccabees…
Meanwhile, in the Antonia Fortress…
Claudia: But Pontius, for gods’ sake, what have you done?
Pilate: What I ought to have done. Condemn him to death.
Claudia: I told you not to stain your hands with the blood of this man.
Pilate: Don’t you tell me that. Go and tell it yourself to the SCREAMING people outside.
Claudia: Have you signed other sentences?
Pilate: Yes, two more. One for a certain Gestas, a conspirator. And the other one was for Dimas, who was involved in politics. Plus that of the Nazarene, that makes three all in all.
Claudia: You shouldn’t have done that to the Nazarene… Wait here, Pontius, please, and don’t move…
Claudia Proculus, the wife of the Roman Governor, hurriedly got a jar of water and an earthen bowl…
Pilate: What’s that for?
Claudia: To stave off the blood… Come, wash your hands… and may the gods protect us!
Pilate: To hell with the gods and your fears!
Claudia: Blood brings bad luck, Pontius.
Pilate: No, Claudia. Blood brings blood… and more blood. That’s all.
Down the patio, a row of soldiers pushed us back, those who continued protesting and cursing the Governor. Upon orders of the centurion, the others condemned, Dimas and Gestas, came up from the pits. They were two young zealots who were also to be crucified that morning. The executioners had already prepared the three crosses for the final torment.
There is nothing majestic in Jesus when Pilate presents him to the multitude clamoring for his freedom. He is nothing but a tatter. He is the faithful Servant spoken of by Isaiah, hundreds of years before (Is 53:1-3). Nevertheless, in spite of his being a nobody, for the believers, “this is the man.” His faithfulness to God and to his brothers and sisters, his commitment to life and justice no matter the cost – this is the man.
No matter how he washed his hands, Pilate is ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus, since he was the highest legal authority responsible for that sentence; for without his approval, the decision made by the Sanhedrin would not have been valid. This is recorded in history, just as it is manifested in the Credo: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate….” The other culprits brought Jesus before the Roman governor: the priests and the pharisees, who not only condemned him for “religious” motives, but also because this man was endangering the whole Roman system. Thus, Jesus met his death as a political criminal, accused of subversion against the Roman empire. He was tortured and executed as happened to the zealots and the rebellious slaves: on the cross. On his back he carried the accusation of the priests who sent him to death as “cursed” by God and a rebel before the Law. The Jews did not kill Jesus. This false idea has pervaded the minds of Christians through the centuries, and has become almost a dogma. Unfortunately this brought horrible consequences for the Jews of all times: discrimination, hatred, persecution, ghettos. The country of Israel – where Jesus, Mary, Peter, John and all the men and women, protagonists in the Bible, were born – was a country like any other, with virtues and flaws, but profoundly faithful to God and his traditions. The people could not be held responsible for the death of their prophet; unlike the leaders, the powerful priests of the Temple who allied themselves with the Roman empire. Thus, all the anti-semitic attitude based on the horrendous “evil” in these people who “killed God,” is the result of ignorance and, of his¬torical injustice.
The suicide of Judas is the only suicide related in the NT and practically in the whole Bible (another unique case is found in the OT). In this episode, the suicidal act is situated in consonance with the reasons, according to the account, given by Judas in delivering Jesus to the authorities. Judas’ desperation must have been so awful, after knowing that no popular uprising was to take place, that Jesus was to die and with him – the plan of the Kingdom of God, for which they had worked together. It is not difficult to imagine the feelings of Judas during those moments during which the entire city was living in a real state of agitation. It was Judas who was immediately “responsible” for all this. Shame before his companions, pain for Jesus, rage against himself, desperation before God, contempt for his fellow zealots…. Judas had no way out and thought that the only way out was death. To wash away the sin and to flee from that enormous burden that was consuming him, he chose suicide, desiring to escape and atone. That is why it should inspire understanding and respect.
The figure of Judas, to a certain extent, has been used as a scapegoat for past sins and sins to be. Some have thought that if there is anybody in hell, then it is Judas, and no one else. The basis for this is found in a phrase addressed to him by Jesus at the last supper (Mt 26:24). This interpretation is unfounded. On the other hand, it seems very probable that this phrase is nothing but an addition as a dramatic warning to the communities which Matthew and Mark had incorporated in their gospel, putting it in the mouth of Jesus to give it more effect, and relating it to Judas to give it historical impact. It could be a warning for the members of the first Christian communities not to betray their companions. Those were times of secrecy and severe persecution against the Christians. Sometimes, there were denunciations, and an indiscreet act could mean death for someone in the community. This phrase, therefore, expresses a general principle that should be read not as “hell” for Judas as an individual, but as a collective norm for all: it is better not have been born to a Christian community if in the end, it will lead to betrayal of your brothers and sisters.
(Mt 27:3-5 and 15-26; Mk 15:6-15; Lk 23:13-25; Jn 18:39-40; 19:4-16)