Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Dec. 15, 16 or 17, 2016
Christmas conjures joy to the world and gift-giving, but also compassion, as voiced in the following piece, “Even to Judas,” published 78 years ago this coming Christmas Eve for the old New York World-Telegram. It was written by a personal hero – newspaper columnist and labor activist Heywood Broun, founder of The Newspaper Guild union.
The joys and sorrows of Jesus were not to him events of a remote past but more current and living happenings than the headlines in the newspapers. At Christmas he seems actually to hear the voice of the herald angels.
My friend is an old man, and I have known him for many years, but this was the first time the Nativity failed to rouse him to ecstasy. He admitted to me something was wrong.
“Tomorrow,” he said. “I must go down into that chapel and preach a Christmas sermon. And I must speak of peace and good will toward men. I know you think of me as a man too cloistered to be of any use to my community. And I know that our world is one of war and hate and enmity. And you, my young friend, and others keep insisting that before there can be brotherhood there must be the bashing of heads. You are all for good will to men, but you want to note very many exceptions. And I am still hoping and praying that in the great love of God the final seal of interdiction must not be put on even one. You may laugh at me, but right now I am wondering about how Christmas came to Judas Iscariot.”
It is the habit of my friend, when he is troubled by doubts, to reach for the Book, and he did so now. He smiled and said, “Will you assist me in a little experiment? I will close my eyes and you hold out the Bible to me. I will open it at random and run my fingers down a page. You read me the text which I blindly select.”
I did as he told me, and he happened to the 26th chapter of St. Matthew and the 24th verse. I felt sorry for him, for this was no part of the story of the birth of Christ but instead an account of the great betrayal.
“Read what it says,” commented the pastor. And I read: “Then Judas, which betrayed Him, answered and said, ‘Master, is it I?’ He said unto him, ‘Thou hast said’.”
My friend frowned, but then he looked at me in triumph. “My hand is not as steady as it used to be. You should have taken the lower part of my finger and not the top. Read the 27th verse. It is not an eighth of an inch away. Read what it says.” And I read, “And He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink, ye all of it’.”
“Mark that,” cried the old man exultantly. “Not even to Judas, the betrayer, was the wine of life denied. I can preach my Christmas sermon now, and my text will be ‘Drink ye all of it.’ Good will toward men means good will to every last son of God. Peace on Earth means peace to Pilate, peace to the thieves on the cross, and peace to poor Iscariot.”
I was glad, for he had found Christmas, and I saw by his face that once more he heard the voice of the herald angels.
[PICTURED: Heywood Broun from the algonquinhotel.com. Broun was a member of "the Algonquin Round Table."]