When I began to think about Judas, I realized just how little we know about him. I wondered why he chose to follow Jesus – especially since he ended up betraying Jesus. I wrote a call scene for Judas – since the Gospels don’t give us one. I ended up having to cut it… but I wanted to share it with you leading up to the book launch!
None of them had realized at first that he was the Messiah. He had called them each in much the same way – Judas himself had been traveling in the Galilee with his father. Simon was a craftsman who had brought Judas and his brothers North to build Antipas’ great Roman city – already called “Tiberius” after the Emperor – on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. That particular day, his family had stopped work after the midday meal to make a quick trip up to Magdala – his father considered the availability of fresh-caught fish to be one of the few joys of work so far in the Northlands.
As a child, Judas had visited the great enclosure Herod had built over the Tomb of the Patriarchs as often as his family traveled to Hebron. He had stood in the Court of Israel, inside the Temple of the Lord. His heart had swelled with righteous pride: Herod had made the Lord’s Temple the envy of even of Rome’s gods.
So Magdala was underwhelming, to say the least. “Where is the tower?” Judas had asked his father during their first visit. Simon laughed and pointed to the small synagogue whose facade rose perhaps a cubit above the homes huddled around it like sheep in their pen. “For that the Magdalenes name their town ‘Elegant Tower’?” Judas exclaimed.
Simon shushed him. “The Galileans have no great use for cities, Judas. Most of these have not ventured far from Magdala. Maybe a carpenter here has worked in Sepphoris. Some few of them have visited Jerusalem for Passover. They will not visit Caesarea Maritima, or Tiberius. Keep your voice down.”
His father was adamant they not to speak much – their Southern accents gave them away, and most of the villagers rightly assumed they were in the north to build Tiberius. Because Antipas had ordered the town built on a graveyard, anyone who worked on it was considered unclean. And because Antipas had named it after the Roman Emperor, anyone who worked on it was often considered a traitor. But Judas’ father had always been more practical than pious, and ever since Archelaus had been deposed, work for builders had been scarce. Judea was now a Roman province, and the Romans were much less interested than the sons of Herod in building. Thus were Judas and his family in the Galilee.
Today, the village was buzzing. Judas could see a crowd down near the seashore, more people than could possibly live in the whole village. Nearly no one remained in the small market, hawking wares. As they approached, they could hear snatches of conversations – an exorcism? Something about seven demons and a young woman. The crowd was gathered around a man. Judas couldn’t hear him at first, but as they got closer, he realized the man was healing people. He placed his hands on a face, and blind eyes could see. He grasped a crushed hand, and suddenly it was whole again. He pulled the lame – dragged in by family, no doubt – from their mats and suddenly they could walk. A chronic cough stopped. Every few healings, he would stop and turn to the crowd. “Brothers and sisters, I bring you glad tidings! The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!”
Of course Judas recognized the prophet Isaiah’s words. So did his father. Simon spat in the dirt. “Another holy man. Come boys, before he spots us. Wouldn’t want to get him unclean, too.”
But even as he said those words, the holy man looked right at Judas. He smiled and made his way toward them, the crowd parting before him. Before Judas had time to realize the holy man couldn’t have possibly heard his father over the murmuring of the crowd, the man offered his hand to Simon. “Grace to you, brother. Where do you come from?”
Simon did not take the man’s hand. “Apologies, Rabbi, but my sons and I have just come from Tiberias.” He looked away, and shame colored his cheeks. “We are unclean.”
At this, the crowd pressed somewhat less closely to the holy man and Judas’ family. The holy man acted as though he hadn’t heard. “You’re Judeans by your accent. Hebron, I’m guessing?”
Simon was taken aback. “Yes… yes, Rabbi. Kerioth, to be exact.”
The Holy Man nodded. “I know of Keiroth, though I have never been there. I was born in Bethlehem. We never made it to Hebron. Had some trouble with Herod.” He gave a friendly smile. “I’m sure he never troubled you all the way down there.”
“Herod was…,” Simon was clearly uncomfortable at the center of attention, and discussing politics so far North. “Herod wasn’t all bad.”
The holy man laughed and clapped Simon on the shoulder. “Well said, brother. Well said. We are none of us all bad. We all bear God’s image.” He turned his eyes on Judas again. “Isn’t that right, young man?”
Judas stammered an agreement. The holy man had touched his father. But he seemed not at all bothered at his uncleanliness. Why this warmth?
The man spoke now directly to Judas. “And what is your name?”
Judas told him.
The man laughed again. “Judas, are you a builder like your father?”
Judas told him that he was.
“Judas. A good name. I myself am from the tribe of Judah. Well Judas, son of Simon the builder from Keiroth. My name is Jesus of Nazareth. I too am a builder, like my father. I have an offer for you, Judas. How would you like to follow me? Instead of building houses and buildings, we’ll build the kingdom of Heaven, here on Earth.
“What do you say?”
Judas’ breath caught in his throat. This holy man, this rabbi, wanted him to join? Judas had never been a particularly good student – always better at dealing with money than Moses. But below the confusion, below the questions, Judas felt a love burning. Deep within, he longed to say, Yes.
He turned to his father and was surprised to see tears in his eyes. His father nodded to him, embraced him.
Judas turned back to Jesus. “I say Yes, Rabbi. Let us build the kingdom of Heaven.”
Jesus clapped. “Excellent. You are from Keiroth? Then let’s call you the Iscariot.”
One of the men Judas realized was among the group of Jesus’ followers elbowed a man who had to be his brother. “Iscariot? Jesus went easy on him. Iscariot is way better than ‘Sons of Thunder.’
Jesus turned to his followers and gestured to Judas and a woman standing near the group of his followers. “We have some new friends. Judas called Iscariot and Mary of Magdala.”
And so Judas left his father and began to follow Jesus.
Read more about Judas in my book, Empathy for the Devil.
Empathy for the Devil releases on November 2. You can preorder it here.
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