We had a Holy Hour in the Cathedral each Sunday of Lent. Last night, I was reminded of a conversation with a friend of mine that took place earlier in the week. She was teaching her class about Holy Week and picking out four characters from that story; Judas, Pilate, Peter and Mary. Seemed like a good idea so I decided to pick two of them for the Holy Hour. Judas and Pilate and to imagine letters exchanged between Jesus and each of them and their replies. Thought I might share them here.
LETTER FROM JESUS TO JUDAS
Did you ever think it would come to this? When I asked you to follow me and you left family and friends to walk in my steps, did you ever wonder what the future would hold? I know you did. You were full of future and full of hopes. They’ll say you were greedy and that’s why you put yourself in charge of the funds but we both know that’s not true. If it was greed that motivated you there were bigger funds to draw from that the few coppers we often had. Do you remember the time we got a coin from a fish’s mouth? I’m sure that amused you – you who had charge of the funds – that when a coin was needed we had to go fishing! I know it wasn’t the money that attracted you or kept you walking with me. I never had any worries about you and money but I did worry about you. I worried that you wanted more, no not more money, but more from me! I talked of peace and you dreamt of change. I talked of the past and future you longed for now. I talked of patience, turning the other cheek, giving the cloak to the man who stole your shirt and you – you wanted action and change. You were tired of being the underdog. You wanted so much wanted it so quickly. You think I didn’t notice your inner thoughts and dreams – your belief that I would overthrow authority, call the bluff of those who pretended they knew all. I knew that disappointment had set in – more than that, frustration. You wanted things to happen at a swifter pace, a more urgent pace but the word you missed and kept missing, was “pace”. I needed you to “pace yourself Judas”, to slow down, reflect, acknowledge the goodness that was in those around us – even those we did not understand.
Did you think it would come to this Judas? That you’d leave the table, having dipped your fingers in the same dish as I and that the freshly washed hands would open themselves to thirty pieces of silver? Silver you didn’t really care for, despite what the people thought. Judas, I know you didn’t sell me for those silver pieces. I heard them bang off the floor when you threw them back. You just lost sight of me for a while. You didn’t pace yourself. Judas, I understand now as I understood then. Your heart was in the right place … if only you had paced yourself …
How I wished we’d talked that night. Passover night! I sat so close to you but felt so far away. What were you saying to us when you took the bread and wine? “My Body, given up for you – my blood, poured out for you” – I thought you were talking about it all being over. I didn’t want to have to do anything “in memory” of you. It seemed as if you’d thrown in the towel. Even the towel. When I saw you wrap one around your waist and bend and wash our feet. I just could not take it in. It seemed to me as if all were falling in around us. Here we were, not even a place to call our own – gathered in a borrowed room. They all seemed so close to you. John, leaning back on your breast. How innocent he seemed, childish even and you seemed all right with that. Peter, changing his mind as ever – first he wouldn’t let you wash his feet and then he wanted a shower! And you seemed all right with that. Then you talked about denial and one by one the table assured you that there’d be no denial. Yes, I said it too and somehow that’s when I seemed to change. You didn’t seem to expect much from us. “one of you will betray me” – I’m not sure whether I imagined it or not but I thought I heard you say it would be the one to whom you hand the piece of bread – maybe I just imagined it but when you passed it to me, something clicked. Something changed and suddenly I forgot the conversations we had. I forgot all the wonderful things you said and my ears wandered from you to those who whispered on the edge of our gatherings about you being a “wanted man”. Those voices took over and the whispering grew louder in my head. Faces matched the voices and I just found myself going to those faces. Temptation I suppose. That’s what happens when we take our eyes off you and suddenly and I honestly don’t know how it happened, I was in front of them, making a deal with them for thirty sliver pieces. You’re right – you were always right – it wasn’t the money. I know the others don’t believe that but it wasn’t. I couldn’t have cared less about the money. Something just clicked. They asked what sign I’d give. That’s the bit that upsets me most. Jesus, I told them I’d give you a kiss – I betrayed you with a kiss. That’s the bit that gets me most. I know you had respect for the kiss – you told us that the night that Mary (Magdalene wasn’t it) covered your feet with kisses and I let you down with one …. I’m so SO sorry.
You see now I know what you were saying to us when you took the bread and wine. Now I know you wanted me to slow down, to follow your lead and not always have to set my own pace. For what it’s worth Jesus, I banged those silver pieces off the ground and when they scattered, I remembered the scattered tables in the temple and thought I’m doing this much, at least, in memory of him …..
LETTER FROM JESUS TO PILATE
Not sure how you’ll receive this letter but I think I know you well enough to know you’ll read it. That would be the Judge in you – the one who reads and listens to the evidence before a judgement is handed down. You’re trained for this so I’m fairly sure you’ll read and reflect before leaving down this page.
They say your wife sent you a message that day. Even as I stood before you a woman out of our line of vision saw what you and others could not see. I’m told she said it was a dream, as if my Father doesn’t speak to us in our dreams. “Have nothing to do with that man” – is that what she said? Needless to say, I’m glad you didn’t fully take that advice literally. You see that’s why we met that day because too many people decided they’d have “nothing to do with that man”. I know that’s not what she meant but it’s what they meant. For having nothing to do with that man gave them an excuse not to listen and not to change and not to follow. Having nothing to do with that man allowed them distance and, at times distance is dangerous. It leaves too much room, literally, too much room for error, gossip, lack of judgement – wrong decisions.
There was very little room between us. I knew you knew what was happening was wrong. You wondered why I was silent. You even uttered something stupid about your authority. You were searching for words, Pilate but deep down you knew what I knew. All this was happening because of jealousy. Your wife spoke to you out of love – love for you and, through her dreams, love for me. Her dreams told her something of what I was about – the Author of her dreams, wanted to awaken in her awareness of hope and change. You didn’t listen to her – well you did and you didn’t. You washed your hands, declared your innocence and handed me over. It’s not what you wanted to do though and that’s the bit that stayed with me. Not so much that you caved in, passed sentence as you didn’t do what you wanted to do – needed to do – the right thing to do.
I don’t blame you Pilate. When we were on our own, I knew what you wanted. The crowd just got the better of you. All I’d ask is that now you’d follow your inner promptings more – err always on the side of compassion. “Be compassionate as your Heavenly Father is compassionate and you will have compassion shown you”.
Again, you were right. I read your letter and re-read it many times. Just as I have re-lived that day many times. It was my chance to do the right thing. I felt guilty about letting Barrabas go. He was a nasty piece of goods. I couldn’t believe it when they called his name. I still hear that chant when I try to sleep. “Not this man, Barabbas” Oddly enough, I heard that you later pardoned a criminal and I took some small consolation from that. At least we did something the same, even if your forgiveness were less reluctant than mine.
Authority is such a difficult place to be. I felt so stupid talking to you about my authority to release you or condemn you. People used me to suit themselves. Your case, no different than many for always there were victors and losers after a case. I always hoped I’d made the right decision but sometimes would have heard that someone I declared innocent had, in fact, used the system to beat the system. Bad as that was, I heard too of the innocence of ones I judged guilty. Your case was different though. I knew you shouldn’t be there. Everything in me wanted to shout at them “leave him alone” but the words wouldn’t come. Yes, I got a message from my wife that day. Pretty much along the lines you mention. “Have nothing to do with that man. I have been troubled all day by a dream I had about him”. Her words, much as I value them, were not what convinced me. I was convinced, even before I met you. We talked, at our judicial parties, in our houses, on our travels about you. We heard all the things you had done. Word gets around. There was something very different about you. Of course my wife’s words were significant. But like mine, they were drowned out by the roar of the crowd. “Crucify him”, “If you let him go you are no friend of Caesar’s”, “Not this man, Barrabas” “Let his blood be on us and on our children”. The judge was afraid. The good word was drowned out by the bad. The light overshadowed by the darkness. I lost my way. Washing my hands was a wasted exercise – a waste of water – and, as I thought at the time, a waste of your life.
I was pleased, shocked yes, but breathlessly pleased to hear of an empty tomb, shocked guards and new hope. Could it be true? The one condemned, the one executed, the one betrayed had risen from the dead. Today I get your letter. Your words and your eternal promise jump off the page and find life in my heart. You live. Praised be God forever.