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The kiss

Listen to the author read his poem.

So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss.
Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” —Matthew 26:50

Come friend,

The air is warming with spring,
and the stars are pregnant with Abrahamic promise.
The cicadas are humming new hymns
and the moon is dressed in bridal splendor.
This is a perfect evening, wouldn’t you agree,
for a long walk through the woods with friends?

My friend?

Now, why do you come slithering with a long procession?
Why do you lead a march of flaming suns?
Are not the stars enough to light our way?
Why have you come with a river rushing
with the drowning sound of human feet
stomping in military weight and precision?
I can’t hear the praises of cicadas.

Why did you not come alone, my friend?
I have so much to tell you,
so much yet to whisper.

Are they all witnesses?
To make public your devotion?

Under the moonlight, and the fixed stars,
Under the flaming suns, and thousand reflecting eyes,
you unashamedly mark me as your friend

with a kiss

so close I could smell the history of your body,
so close I hear the hesitance of your heart,
your lips on my lips, I taste the acid of wine
we shared just hours before.

Do you remember, friend,
the wine in Cana? We drank so heartily,
it dripped down our chins,
like oil running on Aaron’s beard?

Do you remember all the walks in the woods
on evenings very much like this evening?

Would you remember, after this evening,
that I offered you my bread and wine?

Would you remember, after this evening,
my friend, that it was I who kissed you?

Author’s note:

Judas’ kiss is a moment of profound human drama in history (and literature). To dismiss it as the wiles of evil is to miss how our love is in constant struggle with distrust and hatred, specifically because love risks trust and vulnerability. We hate what we love and the depth of betrayal is commensurate with the height of our devotion.

The Gospel writers draw us into that drama by not exhibiting the internal tensions of the characters – the tendency of today’s novels – but by simply reporting the event that culminates in the kiss. That night, the kiss as the ordinary Middle Eastern greeting becomes a passionate kiss as it encompasses all previous exchanges of friendship in kisses of daily greetings — both summarizing the relationship and questioning it, the way a routine goodbye becomes weighted with significance when a loved one dies and makes it the last encounter.

We also the know the kiss burned on Judas’ lips, for he hurls back the 30 pieces of silver regretting he had betrayed a good man. His regret is the storm of his love for Jesus. His hanging is his penance (whether acceptable or not is not our judgment). But the passion necessary for self-destruction is a passion stirred by love underserved. He was wracked with guilt because Jesus loved him still. Jesus was not passive in the kiss. I believe Jesus never gave up on Judas, that he received Judas’ kiss with a kiss. It was the extension of the supper he gave hours before. Only if Judas was brave enough to believe that Jesus’ love was not only good but was enough to pardon him.

For me, this is important because I don’t think I’m too far from Judas. This poem was my attempt to capture what I’m fumbling to say in this prose.

SAMUEL SON works in the area of diversity and reconciliation for the PC(USA). He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

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