CHAPTER XXXV. THE BETRAYAL
He led the way, crossing the quarter called Area, and reached the Sterquilinarian gate, which he found open, having previously apprised the gatekeeper of his intentions. There a cohort of Roman soldiers awaited them. They passed in silence through Ophel, where dwelt many friends of Jesus, and made their way along the extensive walls of the old palace of Solomon, soon arriving at the dried-up bed of the torrent Cedron. They crossed it, leaving to the right the tomb of David's rebellious son; they marched quickly into Gethsemani and gained the foot of the mountain.
The moon, which at first had illumined the heavens, suddenly hid itself under dense clouds. The darkness became profound, and the wind moaned sorrowfully in the tops of the trees. It was a gloomy night, seldom seen in this beautiful climate. One of the soldiers carried a resinous torch, and him Judas called, making him march beside him. Either from agitation, or because of the obscurity, the traitor staggered at every step. The ascent was rough. Several times he stopped to take breath, and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. Still, the night was cold and the soldiers wrapped their cloaks tightly about them. Once when Judas paused to wipe his streaming brow, the soldier who carried the torch exclaimed:
"If you are so hot, why do you tremble?"
"It is because his heart is the heart of a coward," remarked one of his companions. Several of these knew that they were come to take Jesus of Nazareth prisoner—and they asked themselves: "In what is this Man really guilty? What has He done?"
Judas made no answer. He continued his ascent, but stopped no more until he reached the summit. They had scaled the mountain on the rockiest side, fearing to meet armed partisans of Christ. Useless precaution! All slept. Sin alone was on the watch around Him that night!
At last they reached the garden where Jesus went daily to pray and converse with His disciples. A voice rang out clearly on the night air. It was the voice of Jesus, and at its sound, Judas gave a violent start. He was speaking to Peter, James, and John. "What?" He asked, mournfully. "Could you not watch one hour with Me?"
There was silence. The darkness was intense. Then, farther off, came the low and thrilling tones:
"O My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me." (St. Matthew xxvi, 39.)
So mournful and sad was His voice that it seemed to soften all nature. The rocks themselves, and the echoes lurking among them, responded to it by what seemed almost a moan. Arid the soul of Judas was troubled, though it was not changed. The demon of his terrible crime clung to him like a vulture; he harassed him, goaded him, intoxicated him with fury, preventing him from turning back.
"He has disdained thee! He has laughed at thee! He has preferred all and every one to thee! Revenge thyself! Revenge thyself!"
The garden had but a single entrance; they followed the windings of the hedge until they came to it.
"If there are several within" said the tribune, the officer of the escort, in a low tone, "how am I to recognize Him whom you call Jesus? Should He choose to escape while I seize on one of His followers, He might do so."
"Do not be afraid," Judas answered, in a thick, guttural tone."Order the torches lighted and come near me. He whom I salute with a kiss will be the Man you seek."
"You would betray Him with a kiss?" breathed a voice close to his ear, but when he turned to find out who had spoken, no one seemed paying any attention to him. They were nearing the gate of the garden, which was made of reeds and supported by two high palm-trees, forming a natural arch. Judas opened it—but he staggered, and drove his head against one of the trees. For again that mournful voice was borne to him on the quiet sigh of the night:
"My soul is sorrowful even unto death."
"My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
"Behold, the hour is at hand!"
At these words Judas shook.
"Rise! Let us go! Behold, he is at hand that will betray Me!" (St. Matthew xxvi, 46.)
A violent imprecation burst from the traitor's lips. Seizing a torch from the hands of a soldier, he plunged ahead of those who were accompanying Him. Hardly had he taken three steps when a form barred his way, and in the light of the torch upflung in his quivering hand he gazed upon the gentle face of his Lord and Master.
Down Judas, upon your knees, and hope will light its flame once more in your unhappy soul! Down, and beg the pity, the forgiveness of this Saviour, this Redeemer, who loves you!
But the hell in Judas' bosom flamed into greater fury. That mild and beautiful countenance, shining with light, sent a passion of hatred through his wretched heart. Advancing with haggard eyes and foaming mouth, he saluted Jesus. "Hail, Rabbi!"
And he pressed his lips to the adorable cheek of our God.
"Friend, whereto art thou come?" asked Jesus
mildly. And then, in a sterner tone, "Judas, dost thou betray the Son of man with a kiss?" (St. Luke xxii, 48.)
The grave words, the reproachful tone, seemed to linger, as if their echo could not die away. And at the sound of them Judas the unfortunate came down headlong from the peaks of hatred to the verge of that yawning chasm of despair which was to prove his last undoing. The crime had been consummated! He had betrayed his Master. The name of Judas— Judas the traitor!—was his for all eternity. And Jesus, advanced toward those who had come to arrest Him.
"Whom seek ye?" He said to them. "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "I am He," He answered.
At this word they fell in fear, with their faces to the earth. For the glory of His converse with His Father still shrouded Him; the agony of that lonely hour, in which the precious blood had oozed from every pore, still remained. And when He, the Christ, the Son of God, thus proclaimed Himself, the weak beings before Him yielded Him in fear the homage they refused to yield Him in love or respect.
But Our Saviour looked down with calm dignity upon them. His Passion was at hand. He wished to enter upon it. He was the Man of sorrow, the Victim offered for all mankind. And He said, again:
"Whom seek ye?"
The guards arose, exchanged glances—wondering glances—for their fear had left them as suddenly as it had come.
"Jesus of Nazareth," one said again—and waited.
"Have I not told you that I am He?" asked Jesus. "If therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way." (St. John xviii, 8.)
Ashamed of an emotion for which they could not account, they surrounded Him, shoving Him among them, so that there might be no opportunity for rescue or escape. As they turned to leave the garden, the disciples, overcome with anger and sorrow at seeing their Master thus maltreated, would have opposed them, and Peter, drawing his sword, with a sudden blow severed from his head the ear of Malchus, one of the High Priest's servants.
The Saviour looked at Peter reprovingly.
"Put up again thy sword in its place," He said, "for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I can not ask My Father, and He will give Me presently more than twelve legions of angels ?" (St. Matthew xxvi, 52, 53.)
Ashamed and ill-at-ease, Peter withdrew a little, and Our Lord, coming forward, touched the wound in 'MaIchus' head and healed it. The astonished man stood lost in the crowd, irritated still by the blow he had received, but of which there was no evidence now save memory.
" Who can He be, this Nazarene, whose touch heals the wounded flesh?"
After this act of violence, the tribune at the head of the cohort ordered the hands of Jesus to be bound and the torches made ready for the march. And he gave the word of command to go to the house of Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest, Caiphas. Hearing this, and beholding the Saviour treated with such rudeness, fear seized upon the hearts of the disciples. They fled in a panic, as raw soldiers might flee who See their leader captured before their very eyes.
The disciples were then but weak and pusillanimous men, incapable of resisting the great and powerful of this earth. The very name of Annas made them tremble. Yet these men were later to become, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the unconquerable heroes of the new faith.
Judas remained. His eyes followed the flaming lights through the trees until their last glimmer was lost. He was alone in impenetrable darkness. Like a man who, in a moment of frenzy has been about to throw himself into an abyss, and is restored to reason just at the moment of his fall, so Judas now found himself the prey of other thoughts than those of hatred and jealousy. He was in the bottomless gulf, indeed, but he was not alone. The angel of darkness was there, and laid burning fingers on his heart.
"Rejoice, rejoice! Thou hast done what no other being has wished to do! Since the birth of this Man I have vainly sought for one to betray Him. All have refused. Only thou, Judas!"
Judas caught his head in his hands as if to still the tumult in his brain.
"To some I have offered all the wealth of the earth! To others, the dominion of this world! To others, pleasures that would intoxicate my angels. Some have been tempted—but one look alone from His eyes has disarmed them. All—yes, all, have refused this great mission of hell! Only thou, Judas!"
Moans of mortal terror fell from the lips of the unhappy wretch.
"Of thine own will thou hast undertaken this thing! Without effort, without fear! For thirty— pieces—of—silver! Thirty--pieces—of—silver! All the powers of hell are in thy debt. In debt to thee, Judas, only thee!"
The moan of terror rose to a loud shriek as these thoughts burned their way into his soul.
"But, say, Judas, what harm has He done thee? What harm has He done thee? Come, tell me, Judas."
Oh, most unfortunate of men, thine hour of grace is not yet past. Seek the feet of that Jesus who is being led away from thee! Force thy way through the soldiers and let His eyes rest upon thee! Divine eyes, that will cure thy wound and assuage thy treachery! Stumbling like one gone blind, muttering and moaning, his teeth chattering, Judas fled. He encountered no one—he was alone with his crime, alone with his despair. But Satan whispered mockingly:
"And hell is thy portion, forever, forever, forever! Hell is thy portion forever!"
Later, a miserable being with staring eyes and haggard countenance re-entered the city of Jerusalem. It was Judas. Here he learned the issue of his Master's trial, and going to the Temple, threw the silver they had given him at the feet of the Priests assembled in the council hall. Then he went out.
Afterwards it was said that he must have wandered during the night in the valley of Josaphat, and round the tombs of the Prophets. When the day dawned he was found dead under the broken branches of a sycamore that grew at the foot of the Mount of Scandal. A cord, attached to his neck, and to the broken branch, indicated clearly what kind of a death he had chosen.