Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). We all know the reasons for the pain in Jesus’s question. The first reason is this: A kiss is usually a sign of reconciliation and peace, but Judas’s kiss serves as a sign of betrayal and enmity. When we mess with the meaning of a kiss, we mess with peace itself. We all know a kiss is not an empty sign. A kiss does not just say, “I love you.” The kiss itself gives love and makes peace. So we dare not mess with kisses.
The second reason for Jesus’s pain is that Judas is his friend. It is one thing for an enemy to undermine the meaning of a kiss; it is another for a friend to do so. Enemies typically come at us with weapons, not with kisses. True, Jesus reprimands also the soldiers: “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and staves?” (22:52). But at least the soldiers behave the way we’d expect them to behave. It is not the soldiers that mess with reality. It is a friend, Judas. Because he is a friend, his kiss shakes the very intelligibility and security of the cosmos. For it is the kiss of a friend that destroys the peace.
The pain of Jesus’s cry, “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” is exactly David’s anguish in Psalm 55:
For it is not an open enemy, that hath done me this dishonour; for then I could have borne it;
Neither was it mine adversary, that did magnify himself against me; for then I would have hid myself from him.
But it was even thou, my companion, my guide, and mine own familiar friend.
We took sweet counsel together, and walked in the house of God as friends. (Ps. 55:12–15)
How different is Judas’s kiss from the kisses of that sinful woman who walked into Simon the Pharisee’s house, back in Luke chapter 7: “She stood at Jesus’s feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.” The tears, the hair, the kisses, the anointment, they all spoke “peace.” The woman didn’t say, “I love you.” No, the gesture, the act was a more powerful symbol than any word could be.
“Her sins,” says Jesus, “which are many, are forgiven. For she loved much” (7:47). How does Jesus know? She hasn’t said a word. But she doesn’t need to speak. She washes his feet with her tears. She wipes them with her hair. She kisses them with her mouth. She anoints them with her ointment. She doesn’t have to speak, for her kisses make for peace.
The 12th-century English monk Aelred of Rievaulx reflected deeply on the sinful woman’s kisses. He longed to kiss the way that she had kissed. As he wrote:
Kiss, kiss, kiss, blessed sinner, kiss those dearest, sweetest, most beautiful feet, by which the serpent’s head is crushed, before which the old enemy is cast forth, by which vices are trodden down, before which all the glory of this world bows; those feet which tread with admirable power on the necks of the proud and the lofty. Kiss, I say, those feet, press your fortunate lips to them, so that after you no sinner may be afraid of them, no one, whatever crimes he has committed, may flee from them, no one may be overcome by the consciousness of his unworthiness.
Judas’s kiss is a sign of betrayal and enmity. But the sinful woman’s kisses reconcile and bring peace. Oh, how painful was Jesus’s suffering: a sinful woman knew what it means to kiss; while his friend betrayed him with a kiss.
Kisses don’t just signify peace; they make peace. That’s why they have a place even in the liturgy. During the Eucharist, right after the words of institution, the priest says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” And we all respond, “And with thy spirit.” We know this as the passing of the peace. True, for the most part we don’t physically kiss each other. We wave or hug or shake a hand. But the passing of the peace really is about a kiss of peace. Repeatedly, Saint Paul tells us, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (cf. Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). This holy kiss is the kiss of peace. Throughout the church’s history, people have kissed one another, and by kissing, they’ve made peace. There is a third reason why Judas’s kiss was such an affront to reality and truth. It’s not just that he warped the meaning of a kiss, or that he betrayed his friend. His kiss was also a sin against the Kiss—Christ.
In the Song of Songs, the bride longs for a kiss. “Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth,” she says to the groom (Song 1:2). She longs for reconciliation; she longs for peace; she longs for Christ. “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Eph. 2:14). Christ is our peace. He unites Jew and Gentile. He unites husband and wife. He unites brother and sister. Christ is the Kiss, because Christ is our peace.
Judas’s kiss was deeply painful, for his kiss was a betrayal, not just of a symbol, not just of a friend, but of the Kiss himself. Judas used a kiss to betray his Kiss.
You, Lord Jesus, are our peace. You are the Kiss given by God, to reconcile us to him, and to reconcile us one to another. How we have betrayed you—brandishing swords and staves like the soldiers, subverting with Judas the very meaning of the kiss of peace. May our loving master, who in this Holy Week makes reconciliation and peace with his body on the cross, kiss us anew with the kisses of his mouth.
Hans Boersma is the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Professor in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.
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