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Through the Slime and the Mud

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His feet carried him across the sands to the guarded arena where Annas and Caiaphas were meeting. Every time he blinked the image played across his mind: Jesus, beaten and weak in the custody of men who were afraid of his influence. His heart clenched and his stomach roiled, the picture growing more grotesque than reality with every moment his mind was allowed to turn it over, and every moment there was that voice whispering in the back of his mind.

Look upon your work, Judas, the voice insisted. It could never have happened without you.

He burst through the guards and down the steps,but his words turned to ash on the wind before they could reach their targets. They were surprised to see him, of course. His goal had been achieved, and their transaction was done. He flung his regrets at them like barbs, but they couldn’t grasp them. They weren't listening. The priests stood before him, extolling the virtues of his treachery like he was some kind of righteous hero. They talked about how he’d saved the people, how he’d be remembered forever, how he’d gotten so much in return for such a simple thing while his guts churned and his throat burned. Judas had no doubt that he’d be remembered. He had sold them a man— a friend, a teacher, a companion— for nothing more than the weight of the coins hanging from his waist.

A man that, he now realized, frightened them. Not because he was physically dangerous or ambitious for power, but because he encouraged those they ruled to stand up for themselves. Bile scorched the back of his throat, rising up from the pit of his insides alongside the guilt flooding through his body. They had never been afraid of Jesus as a man. They were afraid of him as a symbol, as a direct link to a god they’d told everyone for years only they truly understood. Embittered, he flung the coins at their feet, a last gathering of anger’s strength. As he fell to his knees in the sand they turned their backs, leaving him to grief’s embrace.

What had he done?

For so long he had been afraid. Afraid of what Jesus could do, afraid of the masses building behind him, afraid of the zealotry of the people, and the uncertainty and— dare he admit it— jealousy rising within himself. 

Afraid of change.

But what good could be done without first encouraging change? All this time he’d been fighting, struggling against the tide of Jesus’ faith. He’d lashed out in anger and run from the possibilities spilled out before them all. He had turned on a friend he’d shared a meal with so many times he couldn’t imagine counting, a man he claimed to love, for the promise of a bag of coins. So he could do what? Help a handful of people? How it paled in comparison to the greater change that now would not be wrought by Jesus of Nazareth, weak and condemned as he now was.

Thoughts of the past few months, of the man whose broken face now haunted him, brought about another realization: Christ had known. There in the garden he’d spoken of the betrayal he’d known was coming. Guilt ridden, Judas had lashed out. Even then, spurned and hurt and knowing his end was coming, Jesus had followed him with that blanket. Caring above and beyond what any man could ask. And he’d spit in the face of it. 

Surety gripped him then, as he knelt in the dust with that overwhelming knowledge sinking into his mind. Light glinted off the coins scattered all around him, winking brightly before the sun disappeared behind rolling clouds. What would happen in the days to come would change the face of the entire world. Jesus Christ was the man who would reshape by the power of his death. That is what God wanted for him. That was the greater purpose of which he’d spoken. He was meant to die to save the people. And, for some unknowable reason, God had chosen Judas to send him to that terrible fate.

He howled in grief, and dragged himself to his feet. He stumbled up the steps and into the open, blinded to the direction of his travels by the pain and rage welling up within him. The land disappeared beneath his feet, distances shrinking as he ran from what he’d done, what he’d been meant to do, and out into the unknown. He was a good man, a caring man. He’d lived for the people, but this was his purpose? To betray the man he was closest to? To send a righteous, giving soul to suffering and death? What life could he hope to cling to in the face of such monstrosity?

And there, on a hill in the distance, stood the answer.

A tree.