The chief priests huddle together, waiting for you. The high priest, Caiaphas, stares at you with piercing eyes. They know why you're here.
Your mouth feels dry. You call, "What are you willing to give to me if I hand him over?" The priests nod. Caiaphas walks up to you, handing you a small bag. You open it, just enough to see the glint of silver. They turn and walk away, shuffling past the empty marketplace. You leave, thinking of silver and betrayal.
You enter the house for Passover. The other apostles greet you. Jesus enters and sits. They pass the unleavened bread and wine. Jesus glances at you, his face serious behind his darkened beard.
"Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me."
The others chime in, choruses of, "Surely it isn't I, Lord?"
He pauses. "The man who dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” He looks at you again.
You begin to feel uneasy. You lick your lips, trying to moisten them. You call to him, hoping he doesn't know. "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" Your voice is hoarse.
He frowns. A shadow from the flickering candlelight crosses his face. "You have said so." You think of the silver, sitting within your reach. He doesn't know. He couldn't.
He takes the bread and blesses it. Looking around the table, he says, "Take and eat this; this is my body." He hands it out. It is silent as they eat it, one by one. You bring the bread to your mouth. Then he takes a cup, and gives it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.” You raise the cup to your lips slowly. The burgundy wine sloshes inside. Sweat beads on your forehead. You shouldn't do this. You have to, though. You promised. Besides, you already have the money. The other disciples don't notice that you finish the meal in silence.
You walk to Mount Olives with the others. You sing along to a hymn, your lips barely moving. They don't notice over the pounding sandals and jubilant songs. The scent of ripe fruit hangs heavy in the air. Jesus gathers you. You stand in a circle with the others. He glances at every one of you, lingering on your face, your strong brow and dark eyes.
"Tonight all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’; but after I have been raised up, I will go with you to Galilee." The silence echoes his solemnity.
"Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be," a voice calls out. Low and hollow; Peter's.
Paul chimes in. "I will never desert you." The others follow, voicing their assents.
The trees rustle in the night-time quiet. Everyone looks at you. You cough, as fake as your words.
"I will not betray you, Lord." Jesus' piercing gaze lingers on you, long after the rest. You slip away under the cover of night.
You walk over to the priests. Their faces, shadowed by darkness, show nothing. Caiaphas pulls you close to him, against his tunic. "What will the sign be?" he whispers hoarsely.
"The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him." He nods, a smile on his weathered face. He leaves, to the temple. You hear the beating of footsteps, pulsing on the ground. He returns with hordes of men, clubs in their hands. Their faces are grim. They rush towards you. You realize you are the leader. You walk back to the hill, dotted with scrubby trees. You should turn back. You already promised. Your feet march on. Your sandals become clotted with dust, and soon, you are there. The men stand behind you, ready to fight the one who calls himself Messiah.
Jesus stands, unsurprised. Peter, James, and John flock him, like sheep. They always were the followers. You pause for a moment, your legs trembling. You step forward and kiss him.
"Hail, Rabbi," you call. Your voice is tight. You kiss him, your mouth on his bearded cheek. He looks gravely tired and innocent. This isn't right. You are a traitor.
"Friend, do what you have come for," he replies. Instantly, Caiaphas and another priest walk forward, pulling Jesus from the crowd, binding him with rope. James takes out his sword with a look of fury, slicing the priest's servant's ear. The crowd steps back as blood pools on the fertile ground. It's all your doing. You step back, hesitant to see more bloodshed.
“Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?” His eyes plead with the masses. They stare back at him, unflinching.
"Have you come out against me as with a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me? All this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled," Jesus finishes. The disciples run, their breathing coarse in the unnatural stillness. You flee, barely noticing the ache of your sandals and the dust gathered on your tunic. Instead, a bitter taste grows in your mouth.
You stay away from the crowds, not far enough to mishear the masses' bloody cries, Peter's betrayal, the chief priests' glee at condemning "the Savior." The scene replays in your head. It would be better if you had never been born. Unable to stand the metallic taste of blood in your mouth, you throw up onto the dry ground, over and over.
The bag of coins is heavy in your hand. You handle it carefully, repulsed. You want to bury the money, hide the evidence. Distaste sours your skin. You feel unclean, vulgar. A man's life for some silver. This morning, you stand in a chief priest's courtyard.
He comes to the door, beady eyes set under a stern gray beard. "Yes?"
"I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." The words sting your tongue.
He barks a laugh. "Well, what is that to us? See to it yourself." You leave before Caiaphas closes the door. You walk to the temple, flinging the open bag. The silver coins scatter, glinting in the early-morning sun. You spit on them, glad to be rid of the blood money.
You run to the edge of a mount, your face streaked with bitterness. You alone have sinned, causing Jesus to die. It would be better if you had never been born. You take a coil of rope, and climb the tallest tree. You tie it to the strongest branch as the tree shakes beneath your weight. Fouled sinner. You thread the thick end around your neck, tying it in a knot. You pull it tight. You deserve to die. As you step off the branch, a shout ripples through the air.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"