Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "A Man is Known by the Company He Keeps" (without using the actual phrase). (01/31/08)
TITLE: Friend of Sinners
By Gregory Kane
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Judas allowed his thoughts to wander, tearing him away — all too willingly — from this place of inquisition. He considered Zacchaeus, the crooked little tax collector from Jericho who had thrown such a lavish feast for Jesus and his followers. Then there was Mary of Magdala whose behaviour had been so sordid and debauched, she had ended up possessed by a septet of demons. Only a few nights before, they had all dined at the home of Simon of Bethany. Granted, Simon had been clean for years; the priests had examined him meticulously, pronouncing him fit to rejoin society. But Judas still felt there was something indecent about receiving food from fingers ravaged by leprosy. And then the other Mary had barged in, wasting a whole bottle of extremely expensive perfume in a bizarre display of ostentation. And did Jesus rebuke her for such extravagance? No, he did not. It was as if he didn’t even care that the nard could have clothed two-dozen beggars and put hot food in their bellies for a week.
Of course Jesus’ disciples weren’t any better. Peter was a bully, always pushing himself forward, boasting that the Master liked him more than any of the others. That was why — so Peter claimed — he was invited along on the private trips. James and John weren’t much better: weaselly brats who got their mother to ask Jesus for special favours. Matthew was a drinker and Simon a brawler. And Thomas was such a misery-guts that Judas tried to avoid him as much as possible.
And as for Jesus? True, he was generous and patient and forgiving and all that other stuff that he was always spouting on about. But sometimes he was just so disgustingly weak. The whole land of Israel had been practically enslaved by the vicious, overweening Romans. And what did Jesus do about it? He jabbered on about loving your enemy. Was that how Moses dragged Israel out of slavery in Egypt? Did Joshua politely ask the Canaanites to vacate their real estate? But all Mr goody two-shoes from Nazareth would say was to turn the other cheek!
“You’re right!” Judas sprang to his feet in a paroxysm of long-suppressed frustration. “He’s no holy man, no Messiah. I despise him.”
“I’m glad to hear you acknowledge it.” Abel’s voice oozed respectability and reasonableness. His cape was finest wool, twice bleached. Blue cords dangled from its deliberately unhemmed fringe. A phylactery was tied to his left arm, crafted from calfskin the colour of ebony. He was to every appearance a devoutly religious man. In his uplifted hand he held a small bag of coins, enough silver to purchase a man’s very soul.
“Were he a holy man, he would seek our companionship. We would gladly share our insights into the Law and the Prophets. But instead he scorns us, condemns us with anathemas and woes, and debases our hospitality by welcoming harlots into our private dinner parties. By his actions he condemns himself. And if this were not clear enough, he broadcasts his depravity by the riff-raff he freely associates with. He is, to his shame, a friend of sinners.”
Judas looked hungrily at the bag of money. “What do you want me to do?”
“Betray him to us. When he is at his most vulnerable. When no one is around to rush to his defence. We will seize him by force and call him to account for his crimes against God.”
The decision wasn’t difficult to make. Judas knew that he ought to feel at least a modicum of guilt. But he recognised that the holy men gathered round him were just as consumed as he by greed, jealousy and hate. Their veneer of sanctity was a charade, their self-righteousness a delusion. But Judas didn’t care. They were no better than him, he was no worse. They were all just the same.
“Tomorrow night.” The words were flat, free from any emotion. “We’ll do it tomorrow night at Gethsemane.”
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