In his book, Hope for Judas, Jesuit Father Christoph Wrembeck has a picture from a 12th-century church in France.
Carved into the block of stone atop one of the towering columns, there are two depictions of Judas Iscariot.
The first shows an agonized Judas hanging himself as the Gospel of Matthew reports. The other is the Good Shepherd, but instead of carrying the lost sheep across His shoulders, Jesus is bearing the body of Judas.
Spending time with that image, one can easily conclude that, more than just a lifeless corpse, it was Judas at peace.
He even had the slightest smile.
I couldn’t get that image of Jesus carrying Judas home out of my head. It disturbed me in the old sense of that word — caused confusion, tumult, disorder.
I had always been taught that Judas betrayed Jesus, sold Him out for 30 pieces of silver, and then in despair, killed himself. In one horrible night, he moved from the path of the Lord to the express lane to hell.
But then there is this Good Shepherd. It was a parable in stone that showed the love, the mercy and the endless forgiveness of God more vividly than any lost sheep, lost coin or lost son.
Jesus had to see something in Judas from the very beginning. He chose him as one of the Twelve, and I’d bet it wasn’t because the Lord thought he would make a great traitor.
Either Jesus or His fellow disciples selected him to hold the community purse. He must have been trusted.
Certainly, Judas didn’t understand the kingdom Jesus announced, but neither did James and John, or any of the others who were concerned about the seating around an earthly throne.
Judas probably saw a messiah like most people did — a temporal king, liberator of the Jews, conqueror of the Romans and ruler of the world.
Jesus wasn’t supposed to die. He was the invincible One. Judas just wanted to get the revolution rolling.
He was wrong, dead wrong. He had handed over the man Who called him “Friend.” He was haunted by what he had done. Only a rope and a tree could relieve him from the searing grief and remorse.
Then, in the darkness of death, comes his Friend, bursting warm and glorious from His grave. He picks up the body of Judas and gently places it across His saving shoulders and carries him toward the light.
Judas finally understands and smiles in gratitude.