What was the linchpin that set off Judas to finally betray Jesus in Mark 14:1-11? Here’s one possibility.
If he thought about it later, it was the smell that did it.
The house reeked of it, flowery and cloying, filling his nostrils like the stench of Gehenna. And the stupid girl had poured the perfume all over the Teacher.
They’d all be smelling of it for days.
“Stop!” Judas bellowed, cutting off the jovial laughter of the dinner party. “What are you doing?”
The girl started, nearly dropping the fragile flask on the stone floor, her wide eyes riveting on him in fear.
Every other eye in the room turned on Judas as well, who hadn’t realized he’d come to his feet.
“Do you have any idea how much that costs?” he bellowed.
The girl had begun to quiver under his intense scrutiny and the curious gaze of the rest of the dinner guests.
“How many people could have been fed if you’d sold it instead of wasting it on…on…” he tried to finish.
From his seat beside the girl, the Teacher was looking at him, a frown creasing the skin between his dark brows. His hair shone with the oily perfume the girl had poured over his head. His cheeks were flush with some intense emotion that Judas couldn’t read.
Another man had looked at him that way. A long, long time ago. And once more Judas was there, sitting at the rough-hewed table in the small kitchen. The tiny bottle of fragrant oil sitting like a pillar between him and his modestly-dressed father.
“What were you thinking?” his father demanded. “It was all we had.”
Judas stared at the tiny white vial. It had seemed the right thing to do as he’d wandered like a shadow among the mourners, friends, and family members who’d come to pay their respects to the dead woman lying on the makeshift table in the front room of their small house.
She didn’t look like his mother anymore. His mother had been vivacious, her brown eyes twinkling with merriment. But he knew that once her spirit had dwelled in that unmoving flesh, and staring at her pale lifeless hands, he’d felt the pull–the nagging, aching need in his chest–to do something…special.
And so he’d taken the money. He knew his father kept it in the clay jar beneath the bed that he’d shared with Judas’ mother for more than twelve years. He hadn’t thought about what his father would say. He’d assumed he’d be pleased, glad, joyous even that his son had honored his wife in such a noble manner, paying tribute to her life.
The aroma was what sold him on the smooth, white flask when the merchant had presented his wares. It was something she would have worn if she’d been able to purchase her own.
As he sat at the table, his father staring at him incredulous, the lingering scent floated to him, swimming in his head like a sea of flowers. “I wanted to honor her,” he whispered.
“She’s dead! How does wasting a full bottle of nard on a corpse honor her? How could you be so stupid and irresponsible?”
The tears had threatened him then, threatened to overwhelm him in their flood, but he stemmed their tide.
His father had thrust the bottle back into his quivering hand. “You will take it back to the merchant and we’ll get our money back.”
Together they’d marched down to the market, his father leading like a chieftain going to war. The battle had been fierce, but in the end his father had won.
As they’d exited the tiny shop, the lingering sweetness of burning oils clinging to their robes, Judas had glanced back at the merchant. He’d expected to see anger on the man’s face, rage at his lost profit. What he saw instead was the same look he saw in the Teacher’s eyes now—pity.
Judas the child had lifted his chin then, lifted it in defiance, and followed his father out.
“Judas,” the Teacher’s voice returned him to the present, the girl, and the expectant gathering of dinner guests. “Leave her alone.”
“Teacher,” Judas protested, “that bottle was worth more than most men make in a year. The number of people we could have fed from its sale–“
“–will always be there. And they will always be hungry,” the Teacher finished.
All the eyes in the crowd were now singling Judas out, and he felt their embarrassment for him. The honeyed repugnance of the perfume choked him. “Teacher–“
“My time is short and she has honored me,” the Teacher said. “She has honored my death.”
Judas stared from the Teacher to the girl beside him, her head downcast toward the small vial clasped in her hands.
Slowly, Judas slumped back into his seat.
The joviality returned to the room. Stories were exchanged, wine was poured, and food was consumed. But the bouquet of perfume remained, as did the girl sitting at the Teacher’s feet.
Only one person in the room noticed when Judas slipped out a few minutes later. He burst out into the night, gasping for air unclogged by the nauseating scent of the house. But even as he turned and began to walk–purpose shifting his stride and decision altering his path–the smell lingered in his head like an egregious shadow.
“Waste,” cursed Judas to the darkness. “All of it, a waste.”
© 2014 Kim Kelly Pullen