Jesse beckoned his friend away from the pressing crowds. His cousin glanced around, and then slunk over behind the bush. Jesse cupped his hand around his mouth and leaned closer to Judas. “Well, how much money did you collect this week?”
Shoulders sagging, Judas shook his head. “Not much. Really. We get by with what people give us and sleep where we can lay our heads.”
Stomping his foot, Jesse leaned forward and gritted his teeth. “Don’t give me that nonsense! I know you stayed at Lazarus’ house. Jesus did a great service unto him. If they didn’t pay you for it, then they should have. Even the finest doctors couldn’t make him better once he fell ill. You should have received money or if not you had a chance to take what was rightly deserved.”
Judas exhaled and trembled. “You don’t understand. Jesus is something special. I have this sense of peace deep in my heart when I’m with him. He isn’t a common rabbi or prophet. I think he is the one our people have been waiting for.”
He wound his hand around Judas’ beard and hair, then jerked him off his feet. “Don’t tell me you are getting soft. I’ve told you what the Pharisees are saying. This friend of yours is nothing but a trouble-maker. Soon, people won’t even remember his name.” Jesse kicked a puff of dirt into Judas’ face and snorted. “Besides, Cousin, you owe me. I’ve given you plenty of time to make good on your debts. I never thought you were a welcher. If you can’t come up with the money, maybe your little sister will be able to work off your debt for you.”
A look of horror flitted over Judas’ face. “How dare you? Listen to me. This is greater than you can imagine. He is truly healing the sick, performing incredible miracles, and the way he talks…it’s special. I don’t feel right about this.”
He looked Jesse in the eye and flinched when he saw the greed pouring out of his sockets. Why did I get into this mess? Jesse yanked his hair again. Judas stumbled and nearly fell over. He lowered his eyes. “Give me until the end of the week, I’ll think of something.”
Jesse let go of his hair and patted his cheek. “No need to wait. I've arranged a meeting with a guard. He is willing to pay you to lead him to Jesus.“ His voice softened. “There is nothing to fear. If this man is as great as you say, surely his God will save him. Furthermore, when you started following him, he made all kinds of wild promises. Tah! Fishers of men, you’re nothing. He promised you riches, you haven’t received any. He’s just using you.”
Sighing, Judas covered his face. “I don’t think that’s what he meant.”
“What else could it have meant? He owes you. You’ve schlepped all over the desert for this man. You’ve put yourself in dire circumstances. The soldiers will target you next. Then who will protect your family?” Jesse’s lips parted into a sinister grin. The sunlight reflected off his teeth.
Judas shivered. “Perhaps you’re right. I have done so much for him. I’ve seen to his meals and lodging. I’ve cleared the crowds when they press in on him. He said that we’ll receive our glory in heaven. What good are riches then? I need payment now!”
“Yes, you need to think of yourself and your sister. If he’s so special, then why did he rebuke you at Simon’s? You had a right to be upset when that woman squandered the perfume! To publically embarrass such a man like you -- that is what a teacher does?”
Judas felt the blood rush to his cheeks. “It was humiliating. Everyone glowered at me, as if I had been the wasteful one.”
“But you were thinking of others. You can do this, I have it all arranged. Jesus is a stranger. Your loyalty should be to your blood. A decent man protects his family. You’re doing the right thing.” Jesse clapped him on the back. “You’ll meet with the guard at sunrise. Don’t tarry, take the money and return here. Be the man your father raised you to be.”
Judas nodded and marched back to the crowd. He stopped short, to brush a stray tear away, before rejoining his friends.
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