They will say I did it. And I did. We all did. But it doesn’t matter. The kiss, the “shalom”, I gave him in the olive grove was as real as real can be. I kissed him, and everything that was in me was in that kiss. My love, my affection, my admiration, my fear…and my belief that it would wake him up to what was really happening and what he had to do.
The world is a cruel place. It plays by hard rules. He wouldn’t play by the rules, which is why we loved him but also why we pushed him at the end. We pushed him over the cliff.
He’d escaped the cliff once before when his neighbors tried to throw him over it. He walked right through that crowd and went on with his life, and that’s why we gathered around him like newborn kittens with their mother. He became the source of nourishment, the mother whose eyes always saw the good in us, and he taught us to forget about the cliffs. Live to the full. Forget the cliffs! But there comes a time in everyone’s life when you can’t avoid the cliff.
We were standing at the edge of it right there in the Mount of Olives – a fatal cliff of soldiers, clubs, and daggers, a Roman battalion who’d come there, where we always met at night among the olive trees so they couldn’t hear us or see us. I led them there to the private place.
They will say I ratted on him. But I did what I knew I had to do, or thought I had to do, and then scurried away before it was over. I couldn’t watch. I hated those bastards as much as I loved him, hanging there where the skulls were left. As I ran, I looked back over my shoulder at the horror of it, hearing the sounds of the hammers and the grinding of the pulleys hoisting him up on those pieces of imperial lumber, and him screaming with pain suspended mid-air… half way between horizontal and vertical…and I fleeing for my life into fatal despair.
I understand why they’ll say what they they’ll say. They have to say it. Denial is one of God’s great gifts. They had to deny their own responsibility for what happened. We were all in this together, except for the Beloved Disciple, Lazarus, the only one of us who knew already that death is not the final Word, no matter how it comes, the disciple who will disappear into silence in the later texts about what happened. But Lazarus was there watching, listening, seeing what the rest of us could not see until after it was over.
Unlike the others, I didn’t give myself time to get it. I fled the scene, running for my life, never wanting to look back on it, howling in silence, rushing out into the field to hang myself from a tree. Symbolic, some will say: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and all that … but to me it was just a tree with limbs to throw the rope over, a place to end my pain.
I think now of the olive trees and of hiding among them and wonder why we hid. I think of him as the olive branch that the dove brought to Noah as the violence of the flood receded. And I wonder if that was maybe what he was all about, if the olive branch instead of clubs and daggers and scapegoating was why he let me kiss him there and turn him over before he rebuked Peter for drawing his dagger.
They won’t tell you that we all had daggers. Not just Peter. We were revolutionaries. Ready for the fight. Itching for the fight. Yeshua was the new Joshua who would throw the bums out, restore the fortunes of our people, give us back our land, our destiny, our power to rule ourselves as we had in David’s time and Solomon’s. There was that day in the Temple, Solomon’s Temple, when he went crazy with the whip against the money-changers, snapping the whip wildly, out of control, angry at the abuse of his religion and our’s, tossing the money everywhere, yelling about the money-handlers’ abuse of the poor who could barely afford to buy a pigeon for their sacrifices. For him, it wasn’t just about self-determination. It was about the Romans, about the end of foreign occupation and the collaboration of the religious establishment. But it was deeper than throwing out the foreign occupiers. It was about something so deep that the mind and heart can barely comprehend it: the fearful conspiracy of self-interests that betrays and kills all that is good and pure and decent and loving.
Only Lazarus understood what he was about in standing up to the rule of death enshrined in the Temple and imperial threats. He saw in Yeshua the scapegoat who could unmask the conspiracy, the new Joshua who would shift us from eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, dividing the world into the good and the evil, to eating of the fruit of the tree of life.
I broke my neck on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, certain that I, one of the “good” ones, had become as evil as the soldiers who crucified him, and that there was no redemption, no way to the tree of life, no way to atone, no way to erase the kiss that killed him and was killing me. Death was my just desert and worse. If only I had known that the kiss would be the kiss of death.
It gives me little comfort that they tell me he begged the Father from the cross for forgiveness, like a defense attorney pleading with a judge that those who were crucifying him didn’t know what they were doing. It is what it is. Or so I thought at first. But the weight of his words led me to the sound of them, coming as they did from the high heat of that awful scene, soft and genuine or loudly shrieking, invoking a mercy on us all that made no sense, no sense at all.
Peter will say, as will the church three centuries after my death on the tree and burial in potters field, that “he descended into hell” at his death and preached to those imprisoned there. If anyone was ever there in that place of self-hate, remorse, guilt, despair and hopeless self-loathing, it was I.
He met me there with a holy kiss. “Shalom,” said he. I kissed him back. And left my sorrow in the emptied cell.
– Gordon C. Stewart, January 10, 2014.