The Death of Judas, detail from the Forgiveness Window by Laurence Whistler

Laurence Whistler

The Death of Judas, detail from the Forgiveness Window, 2013, Etched glass, St Nicholas' Church, Moreton, Dorset, © Laurence Whistle; Photo: Phil Yeomans / BNPS

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Bribery and Innocence

Commentary by
Read by Ben Quash

Who may dwell on your holy hill? … [Those who] do no evil to their friends … and who do not take a bribe against the innocent (Psalm 15:1, 3, 5 NRSV) 

Psalms 15 and 24 teach that those who would come into God’s sanctuary and receive blessing must exhibit moral integrity in their dealings with others. They must ‘have clean hands and pure hearts’. They must not ‘lift up their souls to what is false’, nor ‘swear deceitfully’ (24:4).

In a small parish church in Dorset, there is a remarkable window by an artist who pioneered the modern rehabilitation of the unusual technique of engraving in glass, Sir Laurence Whistler. It indirectly dramatizes the stakes for these psalms’ ethical imperatives.

This was the thirteenth of a series the artist made, in clear glass, to replace the original windows that had been destroyed when a bomb hit the church during the Second World War. Its installation was long delayed, and controversial (Stanford 2015: 269–76). It represents Judas, known as the disciple who, in the psalm’s terms, took ‘a bribe against the innocent’, betraying Jesus in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.   

Judas is shown at the moment of his death, hanging from a tree. The image draws on the brief account of his suicide given in the Gospel of Matthew: ‘Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself’ (Matthew 27:5 NRSV).

But in Whistler’s vision of this act of desperation, there are hopeful signs of the potential for new life. A shaft of light falls on the disciple’s upturned head. As Judas releases the thirty pieces of silver from his hands, he lets them fall to the ground—which we might read as the abject place of exclusion (Akeldama: the ‘field of blood’ of Acts 1:18–19). But, as they fall away—and in a detail unique to Whistler’s image—the coins undergo a transformation. They appear to sprout tiny shoots. They are springing into bud. It is a profound and poignant image of hope, redemption, fruitfulness, and new life for and from a man dismissed from the Temple, a man who has ‘taken a bribe against the innocent’ (Psalm 15:5).

 

References:

Stanford, Peter. 2015. Judas (London: Hodder and Stoughton)


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