The Magdelene Triangle

Mary kicked at the dirt and smelled the early evening air. It was fresh, but scented slightly with the odor of fish and dung. In the distance, she could see several children chasing a small animal through the nearly deserted streets, laughing and teasing to one another.

She turned and looked towards the upper apartment where she had just eaten supper and regarded the play of candlelight on the walls that was visible through the open windows. Mary sighed, looked towards the sky, and said a silent prayer.

Please God, give me the strength to overcome my sadness. Give me the courage to do what is right.

She had excused herself just before Jesus had begun his blessing. He had told her what would happen, of course, just like he always did, taking her aside at a moment when the men were squabbling among one another about food or politics.

“This will be the last time, my beloved,” he had said to her. “God’s will must be accomplished, can only be accomplished if I accept my fate and go willingly to die.”

She had pleaded with him to reconsider, saying that it was impossible to truly know the mind of God. Through a fit of tears she said that if God had really meant for him to die, he would be delivered into the hands of his enemies.

Jesus had just smiled sadly and said, “Beloved, I will be delivered. God’s plan must be fulfilled by people who do not know what they are doing. But to Judas, Mary, you must give your blessing. He has told me he will not fulfill his task unless you speak to him. Speak to him, Mary, so that God’s will for all of us can be realized.”

Of all the men who followed Jesus, Judas was the one Mary felt comfortable around.

Simon was the most ignorant man she had ever met. He was crude and told terrible jokes. She found his bravado nauseating. Jesus called him Peter, and Mary used to laugh privately at the honorary name, picturing him with rocks in his head.

Thomas was secretive and never really spoke with the others unless he wanted to get something from them.

Levi was gentle, but he was also awkward and intellectual and didn’t know how to handle himself around women. On more than one occasion Mary had tried to start a conversation with him, only to have him blush and scurry off, leaving her to wonder what she had said that upset him so much.

James claimed to be Jesus’ brother, but he only said so if Jesus wasn’t around. When Mary mentioned it to Jesus, the Master had just shrugged and said, “We are all brothers and sisters in God’s eyes.” That was the end of it.

She didn’t know the others very well. Simon’s brother Andrew was a good story-teller and milder than her brother. He would often regale the group with stories of John the Baptist when they sat around the fire at night.

Then there was another follower named James, who had a twin brother named John. They were rarely seen out of each other’s company. The brothers had taken responsibility for finding food and lodging when the group passed through the various towns where Jesus would teach.

Simeon, Nathaniel and Philip hadn’t really spoken with her for any length of time so she hadn’t really formed any opinions about them. They seemed to be pleasantly indifferent and treated her with a measure of respect that her closeness to Jesus afforded her.

Even though all the men had widely varying temperaments, they all had this in common - they had pledged undying loyalty to Jesus and loved him above all others, including themselves.

Jesus had that quality. People just fell in love with him. Even those who claimed to despise him were won over by his genuine charm and compassion.

People enjoyed his sense of humor, too. For all his talk about God and heaven, Jesus had an infectious laugh that lightened the hearts of all those who heard it. In fact, this was the thing Mary loved most about him - his ability to lift hearts with laughter when everything seemed consumed in despair.

Mary’s mind wandered and as it did, thoughts of the last few years on the road with Jesus overcame her. Sometimes she wondered how he maintained his energy in the face of constant demands from his followers, his family and God.

She asked him about it one time and he had told her that the more he loved, the more love he had in return. He had insisted it wasn’t a trick or some secret he had learned. Rather, it was something anybody could do. He likened it to breathing, saying that the breath of God was love and that he had come to teach men to breathe again, so that they might truly live.

He was always saying things like that. He genuinely believed that there was nothing he could do that could not be done by others. That’s why the Essenes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had taken exception to his ministry. Not only had Jesus challenged all their spiritual claims, but he had basically told them that their authority had become obsolete.

“God doesn’t want laws and secrets,” she had heard him say. “God wants us to serve one another. In that way, we will be serving God.”

She knew he was right and so did everybody else who heard him speak. All her life, religious men had held their divine authority over her head, threatening punishment for her sins by some mysterious, invisible God.

Then Jesus came along, saying that God was everywhere, not just in the Temple or the Torah. And instead of being outraged, the people fell in love with him.

Even his enemies admitted that they were powerless to stem the tide of his popularity. Tales of his charisma spread throughout the land. He preached his message to gatherings all over the countryside and gave wise council to those who asked him for guidance.

He seemed to have a strange power as well, a power to heal and to know the hearts of men. People who had never met him claimed to have had dreams where he had cured them of ills which had tormented them for years.

Mary herself had a dream earlier in his ministry. In the dream, she had been mistaken for a prostitute and condemned to death by stoning, as was the law of the land. Jesus had appeared without warning and said to the rabid crowd, “If you do this thing, you will be judged as well, and the punishment will be the same - death. No one among you is without sin!”

The crowd was stunned by this rebuke and quickly dispersed. Then Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her to her feet. A crushing guilt and worthlessness suddenly seized her. Why would this gifted man take the time to assist such a lowly person?

Jesus just smiled and looked deep into her eyes. “You don’t have to worry about those anymore,” he said, touching her head. She looked up and saw seven terrible shadows rising from where they stood. But as the sunlight shone down, they evaporated into nothingness.

At that moment, the guilt vanished and she was left with a depth of love she had never felt before. She remembered thinking, if God could have a son, it surely must be this man. At that moment, she woke up. But the vision stayed with her and she had never had another one like it since.

As she stood there, deep in thought, she didn’t notice the figure emerging from the upper apartment. He stepped lightly, making his way down the outside stair to where she stood.

He came up quietly behind her and stood for a moment without saying a word. Realizing that Mary was preoccupied, Judas spoke her name in a whisper. “Mary...”

Mary came back to herself with a start. “Judas!” she said, smiling sweetly and regaining her composure. “I didn’t hear you come down. How long have you been standing there?”

“I just came out. Jesus asked me to leave before the blessing, after we had done our act. I’m still not sure about this whole thing, Mary. I feel like something terrible is going to happen to us. I’m worried people aren’t going to understand. I’m not sure that I really understand. Has the Master said anything to you?”

Mary looked at the troubled expression on Judas’ face and could sense the conflict raging in his soul. He was a handsome man, with high cheekbones and well-defined, sharp features. He was easily the best-looking member of their group, including Jesus. His long, curly red hair fell in thick locks about his shoulders and his eyes were dark and deep. He spoke softly but forcefully, with an indistinguishable accent. His body was solid and his presence was robust and healthy.

Judas was the only person in Jesus’ close circle who had been a member of the Jewish resistance, although he had only given them tacit support recently. He had claimed on numerous occasions that Jesus had shown him a better way, but he remained convinced that the Romans would never leave Jerusalem until the Jews kicked them out.

Jesus contested Judas’ opinion on the matter every time he brought it up.

“The Jerusalem I want to liberate exists in the hearts of all men – even Romans,” Jesus said. “Our battle is not with the rulers of the world, but with the will that keeps men fettered and confined in their ignorance.”

But Judas was firmly set upon his convictions and even though he would defer to the Master’s authority, Mary could see the fire flare up in his eyes. Later, she would seek to settle Judas’ offended sensibilities with kind words and gentle touches.

“No, he hasn’t mentioned anything to me,” she said. “As far as I know, he still expects to be turned over to the priests tonight. That is, as long as you’re still going to take care of your assignment...”

Her voice trailed off, then resumed with vigor.

“Why do you care what the others think anyways?” She asserted. “You’ve told me a hundred times at least that you’d go to the cross for the man. Why are you making such a big deal about this?” She winced, hearing her own words and knowing exactly what the big deal was, even if Judas did not.

Judas turned and stood beside her, staring off into the distance. She was seized suddenly by the unfairness of it all. Judas had been a good friend to her during the lonely hours and days when Jesus would disappear into the desert to commune with God.

It was Judas that had protected her when the crowds of thousands threatened to crush her with their sheer numbers and Judas who had supported her emotionally when it became clear that Jesus was not interested in her romantic advances or feminine charms. I should be with this man, she thought, but I’m still in love with Jesus. I always will be. God give me strength. Judas’ voice coaxed her out of her inner world.

“Can I ask you something?” He said and waited for her response.

“Of course,” she said. “Anything.”

“When we were in Bethany last week, at that leper’s house, why did you pour all the myrrh I gave you on Jesus? You know how expensive and difficult that was for me to get. I thought it would be a special present for you. I didn’t know you would use it to anoint the Master. If I had ...” His voice faded to nothing but Mary could tell how much her decision had upset him.

“I’m sorry, Judas. It just felt right. You know Jesus is always telling us to share our possessions, or to give them up altogether. I just thought that maybe it could be a gift from both of us for him. He’s been working so hard and- ”

“It was a gift for you!” snarled Judas, raising his voice. Mary was surprised. He hadn’t ever taken this tone with her although she had heard him speak to the men in such a fashion when he was agitated. She looked at him quizzically. “Judas, what’s wrong?”

“Everything. Everything’s wrong. I don’t care what those boneheads up there think of me,” he said, pointing to the apartment.

“But you. You and Jesus. I know you’re in love with him and it breaks my heart to see the two of you together. I know he’ll never love you the way –,” Judas said, looking for the right words, “- the way I love you. You’re still clinging to the hope that-”

“It’s not like that between us anymore, Judas,” Mary interjected, hiding her distress. “I admit I had those feelings for a long time. But he is married to the Spirit and no woman, no matter how beloved, is going to change that.

“And,” she said, moving in closer to him, “I don’t want it to change.”

She could smell the sweet sweat of this passionate man invading her senses, stirring the desire within her. Judas took a deep breath and looked into her eyes, searching.

“Mary, is Jesus going to be alright if I turn him in? I know he’s trying to prove a point but I don’t really understand. I wish he would just own up to being the Messiah without all this trickery. He’s one of a kind - everybody knows it. Even the Baptist admitted it before Herod chopped his head off. I’ve never known his equal. Why doesn’t he just call on the forces of heaven to expel the Romans? We both know he has the power to perform miracles. What’s his problem? He could unify the resistance and establish his kingdom. What is it going to take to make him stand up and fight?” Judas turned away from her, exasperated.

Mary put her hand on Judas’ broad shoulder and brought him around to face her again.

“Judas, you know as well as I do that fighting is not his way. He’s too gentle, too filled with love to raise a sword, at least a sword that would spill Roman blood. We just have to accept that there is a place in his plan for all of us. We have to help him accomplish the task God has set for him,” she said, holding back tears.

“Oh? And what is that?” asked Judas impatiently.

But when Mary just looked at him blankly, Judas carried on.

“That’s what I thought. He hasn’t told you either. And this whole compassion and mercy ministry he’s been trying to sell – have you seen the people who come to hear him speak? These sick and old people? How are we going to accomplish this task if the only help we can find always needs our help?” Judas said and spat on the ground.

“I think he’s wrong to praise the meek and mock the strong. He’s making everything backwards and telling us that’s the way to salvation. I’m sorry - I think he’s wrong. And you know what else?” Judas said while Mary waited to test his resolve.

“I’m not going to go and see Caiaphas anymore. Even though that’s what the Master wants, even though the money that goddamned priest promised me would buy us food for months, I can’t do it. If something went wrong, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

A shudder ran down Mary’s spine as she looked at Judas in the fading daylight. The shadows played on his attractive face, making him seem drawn and old. Mary shrugged and looked again towards the setting sun.

“You know how important this is to him, Judas,” she said, carefully controlling the emotion in her quivering voice. The success of Jesus’ entire enterprise stood on the edge of a precipice. Mary was aware that everything they had worked for over the past several years came down to the next few moments. There was no room for error.

“You know how important it is,” she said, repeating herself. “If you’re not going to do it, I’ll have to go and talk to the priests myself.”

Judas turned and looked at her, disbelieving. “You wouldn’t. You love him too much. I love him too, but you don’t have my strength. He knows it. He’s told me so.” He closed his eyes, recalling his conversation with Jesus. Then he spoke:

“He said ‘Judas, of all my followers, you’re the only one I know who can do this thing. The others truly love me, but they’re afraid to be without me.

“‘Judas, I know you have mastered your fear. I know that you are not afraid to be alone. I need you to stand apart, Judas. You will be remembered throughout generations for what you do this day. Our fates are linked in Heaven. As long as there is a memory of me, your legacy is assured. Trust me, Judas. Do this thing and help me accomplish God’s plan. We are so close. I need you, Judas. Help me.’”

Judas opened his eyes and looked at Mary. They were filled with tears. He took her hand and she could feel him shaking with the paralyzing indecision that had consumed him. Mary’s heart was broken. She didn’t know what to say anymore.

She loved both men, and both men were doomed to an uncertain end. She took a deep breath, leaned in close to Judas’ face and gently kissed him.

“Judas, I love you. Everything is going to be alright. If you can’t go see the priests for Jesus, then do it for me. When you return, I’ll be waiting for you,” she said, although she knew it was a lie.

Things would never be the same after tonight. But the outcome would be in God’s hands, as it always had been. The thought gave her a strange sense of comfort, even as she stared into the eyes of Jesus’ tormented friend, her lover.

But the Master had to be turned in - Jesus had been clear on that point. Mary pulled Judas towards her and held him close.

“Do this for me, Judas,” she whispered to him softly. “I’ll wait for you.”

They released each other and Judas stared at her for what she knew would be the last time. He nodded and smiled.

“I’ll see you soon,” he said lightly and turned, making his way through the quiet street on his way to the temple.

Mary looked up at the sky. It was night now and she could hear revelry in some far quarter of the city. She would return to the upper apartment now and tell Jesus that Judas was on his way. She would face the reproachful gazes of Simon and Thomas. Then she would take her seat and act as if nothing had happened.

But something had happened, and her life - and the lives of the men she loved - would never be the same.

God give me strength, she prayed and made her way back up the stairs.

(2010)