13 July 2011

how did judas betray jesus? {part 1}

The three of us stood in front of the altar in the church at Villequerie. Aude, 15 now, tall, and no longer as likely to jump on me for a piggyback ride as she did when she was 9, looked at her mother, who looked at me. Aude had just asked, “How did Judas betray Jesus?”

The altar at the little church had a wooden relief of the Last Supper, Jesus in the middle with his 12 disciples around him. The conversation had started out easily enough: Laurence had explained to Aude who the disciples were.

As she did that, I tried very hard to focus on standing up.

Not that I didn't want to hear about the disciples—and in particular what Lau had to say about them—but I had just flown into France that morning; my jet-lagged mind, while content to be with Aude and Laurence again, was prone to breaks from reality, from what was going on around me.

I had landed at 7:30 and promptly stepped into a mass of French police carrying machine guns. Someone had left a bag unattended in between doors 5 and 6 of Terminal 2A at Charles de Gaulle airport, and instead of getting une expresso, as I had been planning since approximately 4 minutes into my flight, I was told to evacuate immediately. Told by a man in a beret and with the biggest gun I had ever seen that close.

The day had become a timezone-deprived mess: up at 4am, which was really 11am in France—must start thinking in French time again and maybe that'll help me start thinking in French again—to catch a flight to Boston so that I could catch a flight to France so that I could step off the plane and do a dance with a machine gun.

And from there, it was a bus into Paris,

a train to Rouen,

a hug and kiss for Aude, who'd met me at the train station.

Lunch—cantaloupe with prosciutto, tomatoes with sea salt, bread, and a salad—in the garden,

a drive down the Seine past fields of hay bales {has life become a Monet painting?},

and then there I found myself thinking about staying upright when Laurence turned to me.

“Yes, how did Judas betray Jesus?”

My English-speaking brain came up with a quick answer: Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, and thank the Lord, my French-speaking brain could translate that. Somewhat.

“Judas a fait les bisous a Jesus.”

Bisous, the French term for that particularly European form of greeting that is the double cheek kiss, is not exactly what Judas did to Jesus. The Bible doesn't get into the details of this betrayal kiss—and I'm not saying that it needs to—but I'm pretty certain that the original Greek in the New Testament does not translate to the very casual bisous.

The thing is, though, at that moment in the church with two sets of curious French eyes looking at me, I couldn't remember the word for kiss en francais.

I could distinctly remember this one time I had shocked and most likely insulted a French woman as I searched my limited vocabulary for the word kiss. I was on a train from Paris to La Rochelle, trying to explain French and American cultural differences to the woman sitting next to me.

I wanted to say: In America, we're huggers, not kissers. I hug—and rarely kiss—my friends back home, but here I'm expected to bisous everyone, from my colleagues at school where I'm a language assistant to acquaintances I run into in the market. In France, I kiss everyone.

A tangible difference, yes, but as my French tongue tried to keep up with my English thoughts, out came a verb I thought meant to kiss, but the woman's eye shot wide in alarm and concern.

I had accidentally said: In France, I screw everyone.

Except substitute the harsher, cruder form of the verb to screw.

You can see why, then, I wanted to be careful with the word I chose for explaining how Judas betrayed Jesus. I didn't want Aude and Laurence to think Judas had done that to Jesus, so I went for the more approachable bisous.

More approachable did not lead to more understanding.

Aude looked at me doubtfully. “Judas a fait les bisous a Jesus? Mais pourquoi?”

I could see her imagining the scene as she looked at the altar. Here was a girl who gives bisous every day to her mother and to her friends. She had given me a bisous as soon as she saw me in the train station.

No part of her daily life led to interpreting bisous as a form of betrayal, so I'm sure she saw in her head Judas walking up to Jesus, one friend to another, saying, “Hey, JC, what's up? How's that whole 'I am your savior' thing going for you? More people starting to listen, or what?”

And then Judas and Jesus mash their cheeks together, kind of kissing the air around the ears, and discuss how good their supper was the night before.

All completely normal in Aude's world, but then Jesus was crucified—clearly evident in the crucifix hanging on the wall above the altar—so how did this friendly bisous lead to nails in the feet?

I could see Aude's confusion, and so I blustered on.


I'll bluster on more tomorrow so that you can hear how this story went from slightly confusing to theologically incorrect. All with about three French words from me.

Read about the blustering in Part 2.

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