Top: Elizabeth Ohlson-Wallin - "Kiss of Judas". Middle: Giotto: "Kiss of Judas"; Bottom: Becki Jayne Harrelson: "Judas Kiss"
Three artists dealing with the same dramatic moment – the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, with a kiss. From the perspective of orthodox Christianity, this is a pivotal moment. It is grand operatic in its proportions. Here, one of Jesus closest followers, who broke bread and who shared wine with him, betrays him and this betrayal leads Jesus to his death.
Some commentators see the intention of Judas as being honourable. He had grown tired of Jesus’ apparent dithering about and wanted to force his hand. Jesus was, after all the Messiah. The role of the Messiah was to deliver the people of Israel. The Messiah had, at his command, legions of angels, the heavenly Host along with all the weaponry and power of the Almighty. The problem was that Jesus seemed to show an annoying reluctance to use these powers. Judas believed he could precipitate matters, by betraying Jesus into the hand of his enemies – thereby forcing him to act. Of course, he could just have been greedy, but the other is a real interpretation of his motivations.
Whatever it is, and whatever the motivation, it allows the homosexual community to take the image and foreground the homoerotic element in the moment. Here is Jesus - God made human - being kissed by another man. In the Gospel account, he does not reject the kiss. There is no record of him being revolted by it. Indeed, it would appear that the practise is commonplace – how else would it have the signal significance it is intended to have? Judas tells those who he is working with, “The one that I kiss is your man”.
Now, this kiss resonates powerfully throughout the history of the Church. It is the liturgical Filema – the Kiss of Peace, which is practised in the Eucharist as a symbol of the unity of Christians. That is the resonance it is supposed to have. And the fact that this sacred symbol of unity and togetherness can become the moment of the greatest betrayal, is precisely the point which is being made.
And that is why it is such a powerful symbol for use by LGBT Christians. Because at the point at which there is supposed to be the most obvious evidence of unity, of love, of peace – that is the place where LGBT Christians experience the most brutal pain and anguish of betrayal. It is at that point. Exactly at that point – the Eucharistic kiss. And the act of betrayal is experienced in the opposite direction, this time.