The reason nearly every horror villain wears a mask is that a mask can turn anyone into a monster. Not every mask is monstrous, of course, but the moment we begin to hide our true face, the moral slide has begun. In an American literature course I once taught, I asked the students to choose the one poem that really hit them during the class and write on it. Most of them chose We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar:
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes…
They each wrote about the same thing; how every day they had to put on a mask to protect themselves from others. They kept their true feelings hidden to avoid being shamed or mocked. I found it grievous to read paper after paper of just variations on the same theme. Did none of them have the courage to show their faces?
Of course, Dunbar was one of the first black American poets, born shortly after the Civil War and dying only thirty-four years later. I imagine he found masks necessary as one of the few black writers during that time. He writes in reference to the suffering of African Americans:
We smile, but Oh Great Christ, our cries
To Thee from tortured souls arise.
The Judas Flaw
But the putting on of a mask bears great danger. I read recently the passage in Luke where Jesus mentions that one of the disciples will betray Him. They are all confused. Who could it be? As I pondered the passage, I felt the Holy Spirit ask, How do you think Judas was able to do it? Suddenly I saw how crazy it really was.
Judas followed Jesus around for three full years. He witnessed every miracle. I feel sure that Jesus spoke to him on a regular basis. He got to hang out with the very embodiment of love and still did not bond. He couldn’t have truly bonded with Jesus or with any of the other disciples. If he was capable of empathy, he would have recognized that betrayal would endanger all their lives.
Why Did He Do It?
Now for pushback, I did have someone recently tell me about an alternate theory. The idea is that Judas had seen Jesus disappear and escape his persecutors before. Why would this time be any different? Perhaps he had been dipping into the treasury and thirty pieces of silver would cover his tracks if anyone decided to count. I have to dismiss this theory as well, however. Risking the imprisonment and death of others is the act of someone who has ceased to love, not merely a petty thief afraid of getting caught.
I tried to imagine hanging out with Jesus back then. I hang out a lot with Him now and feel a profound adoration. The feeding of the five thousand, the calming of the storm, even the raising of Lazarus; each of these failed to impact Judas. He saw but did not see. Nor did anyone see him. If the disciples were puzzled as to who might betray Jesus, Judas hid his nature very well.
My guess is that the problem with Judas began early. We like to separate him out as especially terrible, but the world is filled with individuals like him. I get emails every week from men and women married to masks. The person who used to live underneath has disappeared. And when a person disappears, leaving only a front, they can do terrible things.
A spirit came over Judas, the Bible says. Here is a truth for you. If you are vacant and cannot love, or perhaps will not love and be loved, you are vulnerable spiritually. Jesus will not snuff out the smoking wick of your soul, but the devil will. An absence of love means an absence of the Holy Spirit. The mask we wear becomes the entry point for the demonic.
The Love Quotient
The reason is that what keeps us real and our hearts alive is relationship. Loving and being loved forms the core of our identity. The love of our mother and father prepares us for friendship and then spouses, and eventually, we hand the love down to our children. All moral law is based on love. Morality finds its core in love. Or God, who is Love.
Without the core, we become fragments of a self. But a mask can appear so safe. We hide our resentments and secret away our grudges in order to preserve a relationship. What actually happens is that we are walking away from our loved ones. We erect our mask in front of our true face and love begins to grow cold.
In the end times, it is said that the love of many will grow cold. All I really know about Judas was that his flaw was not healed by love. Whoever he might have been at the beginning was lost by the end of the three years. Or perhaps he had always been morally vacant. What is terrifying is how well he hid it. After three years of teaching by Jesus, you would think the disciples would have some discernment. Jesus did, but He did nothing to stop Judas. Why? I’m not sure.
The majority of people I know seem able to love, if imperfectly, and be loved to some extent. But I have known a number whose grasp of love has slipped. They dangle at the end of the long rope of time just as Judas hung from the noose around his neck. To let go of love is to kill off one’s own self. To lose one’s grip on love is to live in utter despair. No hope, no purpose, and in certain isolation.
Taking Off the Mask
In Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell, he says, A man wears a mask and his face grows to fit it. I have always found this line haunting. Perhaps because in my own life I have had to pry the mask off my face. In the face of narcissistic abuse, it can be easy to lose oneself behind a mask. Few knew the extent of my daughters’ and my suffering. It seemed the only way to survive.
And yet when I took off the mask; that was the beginning of freedom. I was angry and frightened, but then, as I told my story, others began to tell theirs. How great is that? Now I still find it difficult to show my feelings. But everyone sees my true face. It is the only way I can be sure that love remains a possibility. They may not love me as I am, but I definitely can’t love them behind a façade.
As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission off purchases at no cost to you.