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I, JUDAS (Part 1)

a statue of Judas kissing the Messiah
I wanted to believe he was the Messiah. But why wouldn’t he help me—or heal my son? (A fictional short story on the events of Holy Week, from Judas' perspective.)


I moved closer to the fire. It didn’t touch the cold in my bones, but it was better than nothing.

Salome ladled the stew. “I’m glad you came back,” she said, trying to smile as she handed over the bowl. “We’ve missed you this week.”

“That’s why I brought you to Jerusalem,” I said. “Most of the guys left their families in Galilee.”

Again, a half-smile. “I know. And I know your—your reasons are good . . .”

I didn’t want to have this fight again. I’d been gone too much, and what was it for? I stared into the fire and slurped down food. The hearth smoked and flared feebly with green branches. The kids were so lazy with wood-gathering. My oldest boy, Jonathan, would’ve never settled for that.

Salome sat and broke off some bread. “I wish you’d warned me.”


“That they’d be looking for you.”

My bowl clattered to the table. “Who . . . somebody came here?”

“Said they were from the Rabbi. But they looked . . . shifty.”

My wife thought everyone in Jerusalem looked shifty. She couldn’t handle the city.

“They asked where you were,” she said. “And about the kids.”

I leapt up, splattering stew. If I’d known the kids would be in danger—

“Go,” I said. “Don’t wait for morning. Don’t wake the cousins. Take the kids and . . . nobody has a use for me. For . . . for . . .”

For what I am.

Salome stared at me, stricken. I abruptly collapsed back onto the cushions and gulped wine, waiting for the soothing wave. It didn’t come.

“What did you tell them?” I asked.

“I said you’d be with the Rabbi. But if they were from him—”

“You told them?”

“Why wouldn’t I? I thought—”

“He’s arrested!” I stood again, actually overturning the table. “Why would you . . . if they knew him, they would’ve known . . .” I thrust a finger in her face: “BETRAYER!”

Salome shrieked and leapt away. “What harm did I do?” she pleaded. “You’re safe; nobody found—”

I flung the words at her, the ones aimed at me hours before. “It would be better for you if you’d never been born!

I looked at Salome. I looked at the overturned table and the stew on the floor. I’d been there for only 15 minutes and had terrified my wife, endangered the kids, defiled the family . . .

I couldn’t stay. I ran mutely into the outer darkness.


“You’ll listen to him? Actually listen?”

Simon looked at me with wide, innocent eyes. Ever since we were boys, he’d always looked angelic, with blue eyes, sandy hair falling in loose curls, and a charming smile. At school, his looks got him out of trouble while my deep black eyes made me guilty until proven innocent. It’s ironic that he’s the one who grew up to be a terrorist.

Zealots like Simon were Jewish freedom fighters sworn to push out the empire by force. The whispers said that Simon’s most extreme coconspirators carried hidden daggers beneath their robes in case they spotted a Roman who needed killing. I didn’t want to see under Simon’s robe.

“Why should I listen to this—Rabbi?” I asked. “What makes you think—”

“The miracles, Judas!” he said.

I shook my head in disbelief.

“I told you about the deaf lady,” he persisted. “And you know Joseph with his crutch—”

“The lady was probably faking.”

“What about Joseph? You know him!”

“I’ll believe it when I see him walk.”

Simon rolled his eyes and I edged away. A respectable cloth merchant shouldn’t be seen outside the synagogue with a Zealot.

“My politics still scare ya?” he said. “Come on, aren’t we looking for the same thing?”

“Sure, I want a Messiah,” I said defensively. “I also want a bigger house. Should I chase every wannabe prophet in the desert?”

“I didn’t say to chase anybody! He’s preaching in our own synagogue, just listen and decide if—”

Suddenly, Simon pointed to the road. “That’s him! The guy in yellow!”

I don’t know what I expected from an alleged Messiah—purple robes? Strong features and great hair? The man on the road was an ordinary man who worked for a living. But when we filtered into the synagogue and he stood up to read . . . I couldn’t stop listening if I tried.

“. . . The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . . . to comfort the brokenhearted . . . to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed,” he proclaimed from Isaiah. Then he added that if we had eyes to see and ears to hear, we’d witness even more.

I almost gasped—then almost laughed. This guy had just made the most arrogant statement I’d ever heard, claiming to be the Savior of Israel to our faces. But wasn’t that why I was there? To see if he might—

“You know what’s next, right?” Simon whispered, interrupting my thoughts with an elbow to the ribs.

“I know,” I muttered. If he’s for real, I added to myself.

The prophets said the Messiah would announce himself with wonders, then abolish earth’s empire and reign in justice. The empire, of course, must be the one that taxed Jews to fund the troops they sent to tyrannize us. The one that extorted protection money from my business. The one with the horses that almost trampled Jonathan once when they carelessly rode through town. Anybody who said he could stop Romans had my attention (especially if he wasn’t a terrorist). But to believe the Messiah was roaming Galilee doing random miracles . . .

I know Simon asked me to listen, but I tuned out.

Two factions formed when the service ended. There were the ones like Simon who swarmed the Rabbi outside the synagogue; they thought he was the Chosen One. Most of us, though, muttered that this Rabbi was somewhere on the spectrum between lunatic and menace to society.

Abigail, the widow who held her cane in a horse-crushed claw, was the last one to leave the building. She hobbled to the fringe of the Rabbi’s small circle. No one noticed at first, but I could tell her silent eyes were pleading with the Rabbi to see her.

This was the test for the would-be Messiah, I thought—Abigail’s hand hadn’t functioned in the decades I’d been alive. This wasn’t hearsay from Simon. Maybe a miracle was about to unfold in front of me.

Or not. Miracles were for children’s stories.

The Rabbi saw Abigail and his face shone with a smile. He laid his hand on the claw . . . and Abigail’s cane clattered to the ground, released by fingers that were stretching and grasping for the first time in decades. She laughed—long, loud, and joyful.

Suddenly, the Rabbi’s little circle got much larger . . . and I joined it, too. I wanted to believe.

I grabbed my wife, Salome, in the chaos that swept the village and insisted we invite the Rabbi to lunch. He had plenty of offers, but for some reason, he honored us. I didn’t even mind when Simon invited himself along.

The meal was a garrulous affair with the Rabbi paying special attention to the kids. Jonathan was normally cold to strangers, but he excitedly offered to show the Rabbi around the house after the meal. Our place wasn’t spectacular, but it was one of the largest in the village.

“Daddy just added a room,” Jonathan said, pointing to a structure on the flat roof. “It’s for me and Reuben, but if you need a place to sleep, Reuben’ll go downstairs!”

The Rabbi smiled. “Thanks, Jonathan,” he said. “I can’t stay long, but I hope your daddy and Simon will come with me.”

I looked at Salome. She looked back. Neither of us knew what he meant.

The Rabbi explained that he was recruiting for a ministry trip; he could use someone like me with a business background. “And someone like you, Simon,” he said, “who’s longing for justice.”

Simon immediately agreed, but I wondered if the Rabbi knew he was a Zealot. As for me, I stammered that I needed to talk to Salome.

Then I heard Jonathan’s voice. “Can I come? I’m lonely for justice too.”

I chuckled, but the Rabbi suddenly looked serious. “I can’t take you on the road, Jonathan,” he said. “But you can still follow me. Is that what you want?”

Jonathan nodded somberly.

“I know you do,” he said, with a strange catch in his voice. “And you will.”

“Now come inside my room!” Jonathan said. “The bed is huge!” He yanked the Rabbi’s hand toward his rooftop retreat.

That night, Salome and I discussed whether I should travel with the Rabbi. She didn’t love the idea of me being away from the family. I didn’t love the idea of walking away from the business. But Salome and the servants managed the house just fine, and cloth-buying was slow in the warm months, and how often does an almost-famous Rabbi ask you to follow him?

Besides—and I didn’t even say this to Salome—I believed. The miracle and the prophesy, the silver tongue and the way he connected with Jonathan . . .

Yes, I was a fool to trust a carpenter with a Messiah complex. But at the time, he hadn’t yet ruined my life.

Two weeks after I left with the Rabbi, a contingent of Romans arrived in our village. I knew nothing about it. The soldiers found rooms the way they always did, by commandeering the nicest houses they could find. Of course they took ours; never mind where Salome would go with five kids. Thank God she had an aunt nearby where they could squeeze in.

Days dragged into weeks as the soldiers ate through my stored food and left my family sharing beds on the other side of the village. The whole time as we crisscrossed Galilee, I was blissfully witnessing miracles and drinking the Rabbi’s words like a man in the desert. The things I saw . . . you would have believed, too.

One night in the village, Salome had just put the kids to bed when she saw flames licking the distant darkness. A house fire was dangerous, but it was a man’s work to put it out. Besides, it was on the other side of the village. None of her business.

Then it hit her—the other side of the village. Could it be our house burning? She grabbed a lamp and scurried toward the ominous, glowing sky. She didn’t realize Jonathan had seen her and was trotting behind.

Salome arrived just in time to see the flames lick through our roof and begin savaging Jonathan’s and Reuben’s room. She heard the Romans who’d been quartered in our home arguing over who’d tipped over the charcoal burner in the stable and set the straw ablaze.

She ran to the soldiers. “That’s my house!”

A few of the men glanced at her. One shifted uncomfortably. No one answered.

“Please . . . get water? Something?”

Two soldiers laughed and pushed her away. “The house is gone, woman,” one of them said.

Salome turned back to the conflagration, wondering if she dared to dart inside and try to save something. Then she saw a small black silhouette running toward the flames. One look was enough. “JONATHAN!” she screamed, and rushed the blaze.

A soldier grabbed her arm. “You wanna die? Marius told you, that house—”

“My son!” she shrieked, lunging at Jonathan’s shadow as it disappeared into the hellscape.

Salome heard a crash from the collapsing structure and a scream from Jonathan. She tried again to claw free of the soldier gripping her arm, but he held firm.

Thank God not every Roman is the same. From the dozen uncaring soldiers, one ran mutely toward our home. Jonathan’s rescuer paused at the door, then gathered his courage and entered the house.

By now most of the village had gathered to watch the drama, but no one spoke. The silence was broken only by crackling flames and a mother’s wails. An endless moment passed.

The soldier emerged bearing a boy-sized bundle in his arms. The bundle was still as death.

Then Jonathan lifted his head.

Salome kicked free of the soldier and ran to her son. She tried to pull him from the rescuer’s arms, but Jonathan screamed.

“Careful!” the soldier said. He lowered the boy to the ground. “It’s his foot; a beam fell . . .”

Salome alternated between sobbing too hard to speak, trying to examine her son’s foot, and thanking the soldier in broken words. The Romans disappeared into the night.

As Salome carried her son slowly through the village, Jonathan wept. “It’s my fault, Mommy,” he choked. “I’m so sorry. I just wanted my treasures. I’m so sorry.”

In the chaos, Salome hadn’t noticed that Jonathan clutched a cloth bag full of a nine-year-old’s treasures—colored rocks, a slingshot, and the stuffed lamb she’d sewn for him as a baby. He had paid dearly for his riches.

I came home two days later, bursting with news from my trip with the Rabbi. But as I entered the village, I immediately saw the debris pile that was my home. A curl of smoke still rose from somewhere in the rubble. I stared from the road, paralyzed by a thousand questions chasing through my brain. What happened? Was my family alive? Was anything saved?

A neighbor spotted me and explained: The careless Romans destroyed our house. The family was safe with Salome’s aunt, but something happened to Jonathan, he wasn’t clear on what—

I raced for my family while he was still talking.

Salome saw me coming and ran outside. I swept her into a hug as she attempted to answer my thousand questions. The family was safe. Jonathan’s foot looked bad, but kids bounced back. We had a place to stay.

I couldn’t share her optimism because I knew I’d failed the family—sightseeing with a Rabbi when I should have been protecting our home. I hugged the kids with a plastered-on smile as the weight of our predicament bore down on me. I hadn’t earned anything in two months, and it was the slow season. We wouldn’t be able to rebuild our home anytime soon; I hoped Salome’s aunt wasn’t anxious to have hers back. And Jonathan—what if his foot never healed?

When the kids ran away to play, I walked back to the remains of our former home, dropped onto a burnt beam, and sobbed.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see the Rabbi. He didn’t speak, but sat down beside me. We wept side by side.

No one had ever cried with me. It was strangely comforting . . . but I had questions. Why didn’t the Rabbi bring us home two days sooner when I could have done something? Why did he let a foolish little boy maim his own foot? Why hadn’t he inaugurated his kingdom of justice and started with taking care of a dozen soldiers who couldn’t be trusted with fire?

The Rabbi, in his disconcerting way, seemed to know these thoughts. “My time has not yet come, Judas.”

The Rabbi walked home with me; he wanted to see my family again. Salome and the kids were thrilled to have him there. They only released him reluctantly at dusk when he said he needed to go.

Me? I couldn’t stop wondering why I didn’t deserve a miracle like the ones he’d done all over Galilee.

When I tucked Jonathan into a pallet beside the kitchen hearth that night—he couldn’t share a bed with Reuben anymore; his brother would roll onto his injured foot—he reached into his treasure bag and brought out his stuffed lamb. “This is for you, Daddy,” he said.

I turned the crude sheep over in my hands. “Son . . . thank you . . . why?”

“’Cause . . . you’ve been crying,” he said.

I didn’t know it was that obvious.

“It says . . . the psalm says, ‘God’s your shepherd.’ Like, he brings peace and stuff? The Rabbi told me. I thought a sheep . . .”

He looked up at my face and flushed red. “Never mind. It’s dumb.” He reached out to take the sheep back.

“No, it’s not.” I held the lamb to my heart. “We all need a shepherd.”

I kissed Jonathan and left. But after he was asleep, I quietly returned the lamb to his treasure bag. I didn’t need the Rabbi’s brand of cold comfort.


I fled from the house—and whoever was looking for me. I fled my family for their own good, jogging through the silent night without a destination or conscious thought. I noticed dimly I was sprinting down a dingy alley, my feet squishing filth.

A man stepped from nowhere into my path. “Help me out, sir?” he whined. “A little breakfast money?”

Wheezing and winded, I stared at the silhouette in my path. I had 30 silver coins, the cost of my soul. Jonathan would give him something.

“Tell somebody who cares.” I shoved the man back toward the gutter and ran on.

When I couldn’t run further, I collapsed against a wall near the Water Gate. But I rested only briefly until the pulse drumming in my head gradually gave the rhythm of a destination. The Rabbi . . . the Rabbi . . . what happened to him? 

The temple guard had almost certainly taken him to the high priest’s mansion. I couldn’t get in, but maybe if I snuck onto the roof in the darkness . . .

I knew my way through the city’s maze from previous trips with the Rabbi. Even at this hour, the priest’s mansion was well-guarded and well-lit. I jogged to the back where the gloom was deepest. If I was caught, I’d be arrested at best. But I felt strangely reckless. After what I’d already done, I deserved—something.

I boosted myself onto the flat roof and crept toward the pool of light from the courtyard. A cluster of servants huddled around a fire for warmth . . . and there was Peter! I pulled back into the shadows. With his temper, I couldn’t risk him spotting me.

Across the courtyard, a row of high windows glowed in the night. If the Rabbi was anywhere, he was in that vast hall. Inside, I could see a cluster of priests . . . and the Rabbi’s striped robe, directly under the window.

But that couldn’t be him.

His hands were bound behind his back. He was bedraggled from capture and looked ready to sleep on his feet. There were even signs the holy men had beaten him. What did he do to become a sheep for the slaughter? I’d thought I was only forcing the Rabbi’s hand, compelling him to reveal . . . what he obviously wasn’t.

Making a scene would be suicidal, but if the priests kept up the show trial, the Rabbi wouldn’t survive. I was the one who . . . what if I climbed down into the courtyard? Could I force my way into the hall before I was snatched by servants or guards? I would die, but didn’t I put him here?

No. No, the priests said the Rabbi was guilty. Weren’t they holy men? In fact, weren’t they holier than the self-appointed Messiah I’d wasted three years following?

Yet Peter was still there, keeping the faith. He said he’d go wherever the Rabbi did.

A wail pierced the night. I looked down to see Peter throw his robe over his face and flee the courtyard, sobbing. He must have seen something . . . had the priests sentenced the Rabbi?

No, the sham prosecution was proceeding apace. Peter must have given up. Even his thick head could identify a lost cause.

I tiptoed back across the roof and leapt down onto a barrel, then walked quickly into the gloom. I’d leave it to Peter to weep useless, empty tears for the man.

Just like the useless, empty tears the Rabbi wept over my house.


“Dad! Watch this!”

I looked up from the depressing chore of calculating how little money my business had earned to see Jonathan set down his crutch. He balanced a log from the hearth in his arms, then hobbled toward the kitchen door. Halfway there, his bad foot slipped. He hit the stones hard.

“Jonathan, don’t—are you all right?” I gasped, leaping toward him.

“Fine! Sit down, Dad.” He waved me off.

I could see his knee and hand bleeding. But Jonathan picked up the wood, hobbled to the door, then pivoted to make a round trip to the fireplace.

“He begged to do it,” Salome said behind me. “I told him to convince you it was safe.”

Gathering sticks was a job for a girl or a servant, but Jonathan couldn’t do much else. If he wanted to help . . . “You know you’ll have bloody knees for a while?”

Jonathan nodded. I’d never seen a boy so excited for injuries.

“Well . . . I’m glad you want to help,” I said.

Jonathan broke into a grin. “I’ll start on the dinner fire.” He hobbled from the room.

Salome sat down beside me but stared out the doorway after our son. “I hope he’s not a bloody mess before we eat.”

“He’ll get better at it. If he doesn’t give up in a day or two.”

Salome turned to me. “He won’t. Haven’t you seen the difference?”

It took a moment to realize what she meant . . . but then I knew she was right. We had a different son than before the fire.

Jonathan used to be better at dodging chores than any child alive. His mother would send him to the garden; he’d promptly disappear with weeds still choking the plants. I’d tell him to sweep out my stall in the marketplace; he’d do such a desultory job I stopped asking.

Then there was the way he treated his siblings. At age three, Miriam was the baby of the family. Like any little sister, she wanted to hang out with her brothers. Like any big brother, Jonathan hated it.

“You wanna play with us?” he’d ask Miriam.

She’d nod and squeal, gleefully clapping her hands.

“Okay . . . then catch us!”

Jonathan and his brothers would dash away as Miriam tried futilely to pursue them. They’d hide nearby and watch her toddle down the street until she realized they were gone. Then the boys would chortle unseen while she plopped in the dirt and howled.

Salome and I tried everything to make him shape up. We tried to catch him being good. We tried guilting him for hurting his family. We tried spankings. Nothing worked.

After he left Miriam in the dust one day, Salome mourned how Jonathan the Ringleader led his brothers astray. “They’re sheep!” she fumed. “They do whatever he tells them, and it’s never good!”

I thought about the homemade lamb that Jonathan kept in his treasure bag. “Maybe you should’ve sewn him a wolf.”

Salome glared. I smirked. My son wasn’t cruel; Jonathan was capable of astonishing kindness. It’s just that he couldn’t think beyond himself most of the time.

But our boy was different now. Maybe it was because he was bored, but he wanted to do chores. Maybe it was because he couldn’t run anymore, but he made mud pies and played house with Miriam daily. Sometimes he even guilted his brothers into joining them for “girl stuff.”

Still, I hated to see him hobbling on a crutch, and I knew that adulthood was even harder for cripples. It’s not like the Romans ran social-welfare programs. Some Jews thought disabilities were punishment for sin, which made beggars vermin.

Salome stared out the doorway at Jonathan as he painfully limped after sticks. Partly to avoid watching the struggle, I bent over the books of my withered business.

“Judas? You’ve never taken Jonathan . . . couldn’t the Rabbi help him?”

I looked up at her. “Probably,” I hedged.

“Maybe before you leave on the next trip?”

“Sure,” I said.

That was a lie. I had no intention of begging for a healing.

The prophets said the Messiah would announce himself with miracles. A year and a half should’ve been plenty of time for that. I kept expecting the Rabbi to make a move toward something . . . I don’t know, messiah-like. Sprinkling his sermons with critiques of Rome. Setting up an office in Jerusalem. Gathering weapons. Anything that showed he was serious about a kingdom.

When we’d gone south for the Passover a few months before, I thought it was the start of something big. Instead, he spent the time in Jerusalem antagonizing the Pharisees, and when we came back to Galilee, he kept visiting obscure towns and ordering everybody he healed not to tell.

When I didn’t think too much about his odd ways, I could keep the faith, vaguely believing in this Messiah. When it was shoved in my face that he was no king . . . I wondered why I was wasting my life. That’s why I didn’t ask for Jonathan’s miracle. I still wanted to believe, and . . . well, not being let down again was one way to do that.

The Rabbi gathered us for another ministry trip a month later. One day in the Chorazin marketplace, we saw an example of what I feared for Jonathan’s future—a beggar. The vacant eyes showed he was blind.

“Who sinned?” James asked piously, with enough volume that everyone heard—including the blind man. “This guy or his parents?”

It was like James to try and impress the Rabbi with theology. I bit my tongue almost in half. Why are you blaming this guy? I wanted to say. Who sinned to make Jonathan a cripple—him or me?

“No one sinned,” the Rabbi said, giving us disciples a warning look. “This man’s blind to show the glory of God.”

Then he gave the man sight.

I watched the man look at everything for the first time. People. Trees. Ants in the dirt. He stammered thanks to the Rabbi, then leapt to his feet and danced through the marketplace, watching his own feet with delighted wonder and making up a song he only sang between wild, joyous laughs.

I remembered my first trip with the Rabbi, when every miracle was fresh proof he was the Messiah. Wasn’t this miracle proof of something, too—proof that he healed people who were hurt through no fault of their own? Didn’t this show that it glorified God when a disability disappeared? I resolved to ask the Rabbi to visit my boy.

I confess I had fresh doubts about asking when we dined with a tax collector that night. Consorting with Roman collaborators wasn’t a Messiah move. But I remembered the joy on the blind man’s face and pulled the Rabbi aside.

“Rabbi?” I asked timidly. “You know my oldest boy?”

“Of course!” he said, a smile lighting his face. “Jonathan invited me to stay in his room.”

“Right. Well, you know, the fire—”

“How’s his foot?”

“It’s not . . . he needs a crutch, and . . . could you come see him when we’re home?”

“Nothing would please me more.” He put a hand on my shoulder, and I felt tears sting my eyes. I could tell he meant it.

Of course, if I knew then what he’d do when he visited my boy, I wouldn’t have asked.


 Read “I, JUDAS (Part 2)” >>

To read another short story from George Halitzka, check out “TETELESTAI

Copyright 2024 George Halitzka. All rights reserved. 

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About the Author

George Halitzka
George Halitzka

George Halitzka is a writer, storyteller and theatre artist based in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s the founder and artistic director of Drama by George, an educational theatre company. George loves God, his wife Julie, performing onstage, and eating peanut butter (not necessarily in that order).


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