By Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
In a religion built on redemption and forgiveness, one man had to sacrifice himself for everyone…and it wasn’t Jesus.
This text appears in the back of this issue, serving as a kind of tagline for the series. This might put it a bit too bluntly (I can almost hear the record scratch on that ellipsis), but the notion that Judas is the true victim of the story of his betrayal is an intriguing one. After all, if Jesus needed to suffer and die in order to redeem humanity, then he must have needed a betrayer — Judas is essential to our salvation. Moreover, while Jesus’s suffering was great, it was temporary, and was ultimately followed by eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. That seems a heck of a lot better than eternal damnation. That bitterness creeps in at the edges of Jeff Loveness and Jakub Rebelka’s Judas 1, but it’s really a manifestation of something much more profound: doubt.
I mean, the premise at the top might represent some doubts about the fairness of divine justice, but Judas’s doubts seem to start long before that. Heck, they seem to start long before he met Jesus.
The “why do bad things happen to good people?” hangup may seem elementary, but it also makes his doubts relatable. How could a benevolent god allow this to happen?
It also sets up a pattern for Judas’s life: he’s a follower of those with compassion for the sick and poor. He’s partial to Jesus’s message, but gun-shy, having been down this road before. And his doubts make him skeptical of Jesus’s righteousness. He returns to that question of “why is there suffering?”, sighting the specific examples when Jesus can choose to stop that suffering (healing the lepers, feeding the masses, walking on water, and resurrecting the Lazarus). Moreover, he’s shaken by Jesus’s anointment at Bethany — the events of which immediately precede Judas agreeing to betray Jesus, at least according to Matthew. Loveness connects these events, making Judas the apostle that questions Jesus about accepting such a lavish gift:
That truly is an incredibly bitchy answer, right? I mean, so long as poverty promises to be more immortal than individual humans, we could all use this to justify our own largess. It’s exactly the kind of thinking Jesus is supposed to stand against — the kind of thinking Judas never saw so corrupted in his dead companion.
It all goes a long way to creating a remarkably sympathetic Judas, one that artist Jakub Rebelka captures with a kind of stained glass ethereality. Indeed, the rich symbolism of stained glass seems picked up here, as well, leaving the condemned Judas with all kinds of revealing marks and heraldry. The result is a gorgeous, complex work that grapples with faith in a very real way. I can’t presume to guess what this miniseries will ultimately have to say about faith, but I’m excited to find out.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?