Last Updated September 5, 2023.
This poem is narrated by Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus Christ's disciples; in the Bible, Judas betrayed Jesus after what is now called the Last Supper in the garden of Gethsemane. Judas identified Jesus with a kiss so that the Roman soldiers could arrest him and crucify him the next day, and Judas did this all for thirty pieces of silver. He was never named a saint by the church, and he killed himself not long after his betrayal.
In the poem, Judas has already betrayed Jesus and is on his way to take his own life by hanging himself from a tree. He sees a gang of men who are beating up another man, who is helpless and alone. Judas runs toward the group, hoping to save the man from his attackers, and he completely forgets about his own problems in the moment. He forgets about the soldiers to whom he betrayed his friend, Jesus; about how he traded his friend's life for mere money; about how he slipped away from the garden, avoiding the other disciples after Jesus was arrested.
He knows now that he will not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven after he dies, and it is at this time that he happens upon this helpless, beaten, and victimized man. Judas drops the rope that he intends to use to hang himself and runs to the man. He recalls again the Last Supper with Jesus: how he ate the bread that Jesus said was a symbol for his own flesh, how he kissed Jesus, and how it feels as though that kiss of betrayal has destroyed Judas himself. Now, though he has no hope for himself, he holds the beaten man in his arms "for nothing": that is, for no redemption in heaven, though his compassion is a kind of salvation on earth.