As a writer, motivation of a character is huge for me. What drives us to do the things we do, things we never, ever thought ourselves capable of? I thought about what it was that set off Judas to finally plot to betray Jesus (Luke 14:1-11). Here's my take:
If he’d thought about it later, it was the smell that had done 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 smell 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 bottle on the stone floor, her wide fearful eyes glancing up at him reluctantly.
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 asked enraged.
The girl had begun to quiver under his intense scrutiny and the now roaming eyes 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 brown 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.
His father 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 his modestly dressed father and him.
“What were you thinking?” his father had asked. “It was all we had.”
Judas stared at the tiny white bottle. 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 laying on the makeshift table in the front room of their small house.
She didn’t look much 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 where his father had kept it, in the clay jar beneath the bed that he’d shared with Judas’ mother for more than twelve years. He hadn’t even 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 of it was what sold him on the curved white bottle when the merchant had presented his wares. It was something she would have worn if she’d ever been able to buy any perfume of her own.
As he sat at the table, his father looking on in incredulity, 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,” his father barked. “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 somehow stemmed their tide.
His father had thrust the bottle back into his quivering hand, “You’ll take it back,” he’d said. “Take it back to the merchant and get our money back.”
And 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 pity.
Judas 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 crowded gathering of dinner guests. “Leave her alone.”
“Teacher,” Judas protested, “that bottle was worth more than a year’s wages. The people you could have fed from its sale--“
“--will always be hungry,” the teacher finished for him.
All the eyes in the crowd were now singling Judas out, and he felt their embarrassment, their shame for him. The perfume, its honeyed repugnance, 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 and staring at the small white bottle 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 eaten. But the bouquet of perfume remained, as did the girl who seemed glued to the floor at the teacher’s feet.
When Judas slipped out a few minutes later, only one person in the room noticed. 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, the smell lingered in his head like an egregious shadow.
“Waste,” he cursed the darkness. “All of it, a waste.”
© 2008 K.K. Pullen