i've heard before that a writer is only as good as the material she reads. in light of this, i want to start sharing some writings with you that inform my journey. this is a piece written in reflection of holy week this year by my friend david hutchens. i pray his words are just as convicting for you as they are for me.
My eyes kept being drawn back to the image of the silver coins being dropped into Judas’ hands, which disappointed me because I didn't want to write about it. The Passion narrative is so rich in pathos, in beauty, in archetype, why even bring up money? It seems tacky. But this image kept calling, so I should listen to what it has to say.
I stay with the picture, and I feel my breath deepen, and now I see images of glass meeting rooms in big organizations where my career in leadership development keeps putting me in these flawed and compromised places so that my friends ask me questions: How can you support a national food brand when they are depleting ground water in India? By supporting a national beauty retailer, aren't you contributing to the objectification of women?
It’s not that I see myself as a Judas. I believe in my work. But I’ve been sensitive to my role in systems that are deeply fractured (which I think may be all systems). I sometimes feel in my gut the tension between positioning myself as one of the good guys who is there to make it better, while at some level enabling the dysfunction simply by showing up without a picket sign.
I just came back from a program -- with the national beauty retailer, as a matter of fact -- and it was a room filled with young leaders which is my favorite scenrio because they still have some fire flickering in their eyes, before 20 years in supply chain management can turn them into zombies who believe that all they are doing is moving numbers around on an Excel spreadsheet. They have not yet abandoned the possibility that they might bring their whole hearts to the work. I told them the thing I always tell leaders which is that they are creating their world through the stories they choose to tell, and if you want to change the world start by changing the metaphor. The young business leaders are hungry to embrace this calling, I see the light burn a little brighter, and I feel a moment of hope for the organizational world.
My eyes focus on the painting again. I like that it is an action image. We see the coins falling from the hand of a Sanhedrin priest into Judas’ hand. Money is one of those topics like sex that is always a metaphor, so that when we are talking about it we are probably really talking about something else. What the money represents to the priest is different than the meaning that Judas assigns to it, and so something has shifted in that short journey as it falls from one hand to another.
So what meaning does Judas assign to the money? I sense desperation. I think it’s plausible that he was hungry, or that he was worried about his house payment, or a family member had growing medical debt, or maybe his teenager needed braces. When you’re scrambling at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for basic survival, it’s amazing how quickly you can rationalize away all of the higher-order self-actualization stuff. I know because I’ve done it.
But what is sad about this story is that Judas never gets to make the choice that my L’Oreal leaders made. There’s a special form of discourse that I like to call The Art of Talking About What Things Mean. In the scripture Jesus was especially good at this but it seems like almost no one else was, and that includes Judas who found himself isolated on his last day on earth, unable to change the metaphor.
It’s tough work, this Art of Talking About What Things Mean. It has to happen in community, and I think the final agony of this text is that Judas was up for the task but at the crucial moment community failed him. Listen to how the story goes in Matthew chapter 27, which to me now sounds like a modern parable for Wall Street:
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” the leaders replied. “That’s your responsibility." So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
And as I take one last look at the image, I notice that the hands are close enough to touch, a possibility of human connection that for Judas never happened. And so maybe this painting, which I resisted, has for me not a rebuke but a call. A call to new stories and to building something beautiful as a community. Otherwise, all we are left with is a handful of coins… and the noose of a single narrative.
image credit: pixabay.com