For Easter, my husband gave me two books. Knowing how much I like and admire James Martin, S.J., he got me A Jesuit Off-Broadway, Martin’s account of the time he spend with the LAByrinth Theater Company in NY in connection with the production of the Off-Broadway plan, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. He also gave me a copy of the play itself, written by Stephen Adly Guirgis.
I decided to read the play before reading Martin’s book and yesterday’s rain gave me the opportunity to do that. The play is a courtroom drama – a trial to determine Judas’ ultimate fate. Plays are meant to be experienced in performance, and so I always have some difficiulty when I am reading them. Nonetheless, I’m glad I read it – it conveys a richer picture of some of the “cast” of the Jesus story we are already familiar with.
The play opens, however, with prologue by a character who is not part of the normal cast of our Bible stories – Henrietta Iscariot, mother of Judas. Her opening line is one I’ve heard from other mothers in her situation: “No parent should have to bury a child…No mother should have to bury a son.” She goes on to talk about Judas’ burial without a funeral, a burial his own sisters would not attend. And she talks about her immense love for her son – a love beyond all measure and understanding.
I found it a powerful way to begin the play, this soliloquy by a woman we never give a thought to when we read the Gospels. A woman whose heart was broken by what happened to her son.
The prologue reminds us that there are many things the Gospels did not record. Many people impacted by various of the events, whose feelings we know nothing about. Realizing that reminds us that our pictures of the people we read about are incomplete; we see only pieces and not the whole.
I was also reminded when I read the Prologue of a poem called Two Mothers, that I came across a couple of years ago. It records an encounter between this mother and another mother. I find it as powerful now as I did when I first read it; it is a good piece to pray with.
Long time ago, so I have been told,
Two angels once met on streets paved with gold.
“By the stars in your crown,” said the one to the other
“I see that on earth, you too, were a mother.
And by, the blue-tinted halo you wear
“You, too, have known sorrow and deepest despair…”
“Ah yes,” she replied, “I once had a son,
A sweet little lad, full of laughter and fun.”
“But tell of your child.” “Oh, I knew I was blessed
From the moment I first held him close to my breast,
And my heart almost burst with the joy of that day.”
“Ah, yes,” said the other, “I felt the same way.”
The former continued: “The first steps he took-
So eager and breathless; the sweet startled look
Which came over his face – he trusted me so.”
“Ah, yes,” said the other, “How well do I know”
“But soon he had grown to a tall handsome boy,
So stalwart and kind – and it gave me so much joy
To have him just walk down the street by my side”
“Ah yes, “said the other mother,
“I felt the same pride.”
“How often I shielded and spared him from pain
And when he for others was so cruelly slain.
When they crucified him – and they spat in his face
How gladly would I have hung there in his place!”
A moment of silence – “Oh then you are she –
The mother of Christ”; and she fell on one knee.
But the Blessed one raised her up, drawing her near,
And kissed from the cheek of the woman, a tear.
“Tell me the name of the son you love so,
That I may share with your grief and your woe.”
She lifted her eyes, looking straight at the other,
“He was Judas Iscariot: I am his mother.”