The Judas Factor
By Audrey Stallsmith
After watching a movie titled Breach--on the effort to catch FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who spied for the Soviets--I began to ponder on what makes a person a betrayer. Money enters into it, of course.
The biblical Judas apparently was overly fond of “filthy lucre,” to the point of stealing that entrusted to his care, but it doesn’t seem to have been the sole factor. That money didn’t keep him from hanging himself, after all.
He may have expected a different result from his betrayal. Many commentators believe that Judas was attempting to force a revolution, thinking that the populace would rise up to rescue Jesus, overthrowing the Roman government in the process. Judas’s actions, therefore, could have been caused by an excess of patriotic idealism rather than by greed.
He then would have been taken aback by the crowds screaming for Christ’s crucifixion instead. If Judas did have a deeper motive, he obviously hadn’t taken into account the fickle public’s inclination to lean in whatever direction the wind happens to be blowing at the time. His suicide then may have been caused by disillusionment as much as by guilt.
The famous British spy Kim Philby claimed to have been motivated by his dedication to communism, but was disappointed by what he saw once he actually defected to the Soviet Union. Both men might therefore have been operating on the theory that the end justifies the means, only to find the end highly unsatisfactory. Another theory is that betrayers feel themselves intellectually superior to those around them, think they aren’t getting the acknowledgment they deserve, and like the sense of power they experience from deceiving everybody.
We may posit that betrayers just aren’t capable of loyalty to anyone, as many seem to have deceived their wives and/or girlfriends on a regular basis too. Some of the spies were heavy drinkers as well, which may have helped dull their consciences.
In a western we also recently watched called One-Eyed Jacks, Marlon Brando’s bank-robbing character Rio is betrayed by his heavy drinking partner, “Dad” Longworth. When they are trapped by Rurales after a robbery in Mexico, Rio holds off those Mexican mounted police while Dad leaves to get fresh horses--and never returns. The captured Rio ends up spending five years in a Sonoran prison.
Meanwhile, “Dad” becomes a sheriff in California and marries a woman who already has a daughter. Like the “one-eyed jacks” in the title, the ex-outlaw now shows only the respectable side of his personality to the world.
Once Rio escapes from prison, he begins his campaign of revenge by lying to and seducing Longworth’s innocent stepdaughter, Louisa. Longworth then uses the excuse of a man Rio killed in a fair fight to tie up and whip Rio in front of the townspeople, at the end smashing his gun hand with a rifle butt. Naturally, this only stokes Rio’s thirst for revenge.
If we look at the facts, however, we have to conclude that Rio only got what was coming to him. He went to prison, not because his partner betrayed him, but because both of them robbed a bank. And horsewhipping always was the traditional punishment for a cad who seduces an innocent woman!
Rio may be coming to realize that himself by the end of the movie when Louisa offers to run away with him. Although he doesn’t know she is pregnant, he does know that he doesn’t deserve her forgiveness and love. He may also have seen, in Longworth’s frenzied persecution, what can happen to a man who allows his worst instincts to dominate his life. So Rio chooses Louisa rather than revenge.
But the sheriff’s own bad conscience won’t allow him to rest until he has his old partner hung, as if wiping out Rio can somehow wipe out Longworth’s betrayal of him. In the end, Rio is forced to shoot the other man, but in self defense rather than for revenge.
What can we learn from all this? For one thing, we aren’t allowed to run ahead of God--as Judas may have attempted to do--by trying to force events which were never part of God’s plan. We also shouldn’t allow our own failures to make us bitter, creating a “breach” in our defenses which can allow all sorts of evil to pour in.
Finally, the ignoble easy way out which Longworth took seldom ends up being easy, and a surface change to morality won’t “take” unless it involves a heart change as well. If something doesn’t ride up out of your past to get you, your conscience will.