Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jesus said, "One Of You Is About To Betray Me." --- Is It I, Lord?

Wednesday of Holy Week
Reading I
Isaiah 50:4-9a
The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
That I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
And I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
My face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let him confront me.
See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?
The Third Song of the Servant of Yahweh.

Another ‘Servant’ passage from Isaiah which speaks very graphically of what Jesus will go through in his passion. God provides his Servant with the words he needs to speak, especially for those who need encouragement. And Jesus will speak words of encouragement to his disciples before his Passion. He will speak to the women who sympathise with him on the way to Calvary.

“The Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple’s tongue… to give a word of comfort to the weary.” Jesus is the Word of God, communicating God’s love and encouragement. Later, Jesus will say: “Come to me, all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your spirit” (Matthew 11:28-29).

“He makes my ear alert, to listen like a disciple… has opened my ear and I have not resisted.” A way of describing the total submission of Jesus to his Father. “Even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient” (Hebrews 5:8). “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Philippians 2:7). In this he is in contrast to a rebellious Israel. In the Gospel, Jesus tells frequently tells his disciples to listen; in other words, to submit totally to the Way of life to which he is calling them.

“I have not resisted, I have not turned away…” This will be described in greater detail in the Fourth Song. The Servant willingly submits to insults and beatings and will not return in kind. To do so would be to bring himself down to the level of his attackers. Plucking the beard was a great insult. He offers his back for a beating, something given only to criminals and fools. This, of course, will happen during the scourging. Similarly for the mocking and spitting. It requires great inner strength not to respond in kind to such provocation. But when it is undergone with dignity, it is the attacker who seems small.

The Servant makes no resistance to his attackers. He will not meet violence with violence. He will not resist when he is beaten, when his beard is plucked, when he is struck and spat upon. However, it must be made very clear that this is not weakness but a sign of great inner strength and peace.

“Lord Yahweh comes to my help, this is why insult has not touched me, this is why I have set my face like flint and know that I will not be put to shame.” God comes to his help so that he is “untouched by the insults”. This is the sign of the inner security and strength. Insults and violence cannot change the inner reality of the person. And ultimately the Lord is on his side. Insults are either true or false. If they are true, they are not really insults but simply a statement of fact. If they are false, they can be ignored. In either case, to respond with violence is to show weakness and insecurity.

He meets insults and physical attacks with firmness. He will not be turned away from the way that the Father is asking him to go. Knowing that the ultimate outcome will not be shame but vindication and glory. “The Lord God is my help.” Towards the end of his public life, we are told that Jesus “resolutely set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51)

“Who has a case against me? Let us appear in court together!… Look, Lord Yahweh is coming to my help!” Jesus is perfectly innocent of all the charges thrown against him. He has no fear of court proceedings, even when they are corrupt. Final vindication will be his.

We could reflect today on how we respond to criticisms, statements about us we regard as unfair or untrue. Are we prone to violence - physical or verbal? And, even if we do not respond externally, do we allow statements and events to turn us into cauldrons of anger, hatred, anxiety and tension?

The way of Jesus is the way to peace.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 69
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
For your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak,
I looked for sympathy, but there was none;
for consolers, not one could I find.
Rather they put gall in my food,
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving:
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”
Lord, in your great love, answer me.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Matthew 26:14-25

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked
for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
the disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?”
He said,
“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
‘The teacher says,
My appointed time draws near; in your house
I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘“
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.

When it was evening,
he reclined at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating, he said,
“Amen, I say to you, one of you is about to betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this,
they began to say to him one after another,
“Is is I, Lord?”
He said in reply,
“He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me
is the one who will betray me.
The Son of Man indeed goes,
as it is written of him,
but woe to that man
by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man
if he had never been born.”
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply,
“Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
He answered, “You have said so.”
The stage is being set for the final drama of Jesus’ mission. Judas has gone to the chief priests to make a deal for handing Jesus over to them. This term ‘handing over’ is like a refrain all through the Gospel and reaches a climax here. John the Baptist was handed over. Now we see Jesus being handed over - the term occurs three times in today’s passage. Later, the followers of Jesus will also be handed over into the hands of those who want to put an end to their mission.

Judas sells his master, hands him over, for 30 pieces of silver. Only Matthew mentions the actual sum given to Judas. The sum derives from a passage in Zechariah (11:11-13), where it is the wages paid to the shepherd (Zechariah himself) rejected by the people. He is then told by God to throw the money into the Temple treasury as a sign of God’s rejecting those who reject him. (Judas, too, will throw back the money to the priests after realising what he has done.) What people will do for money! Judas is not alone. What he did is happening every day. Perhaps I, too, have betrayed and handed over Jesus more than once.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus’ disciples ask him where he wants to celebrate the Passover. Little do they know the significance of this Passover for Jesus - and for them.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover are closely linked but there is a distinction between them. The Passover was the commemoration of the Israelites being liberated from slavery in Egypt, their escape through the Red Sea (the Sea of Reeds?) and the beginning of their long trek to the Promised Land. The feast began at sunset after the Passover lamb had been sacrificed in the temple on the afternoon of the 14th day of the month Nisan. Associated with this on the same evening was the eating of unleavened bread - the bread that Jesus would use when he said over it “This is my Body”. The eating of this bread continued for a whole week (until Nisan 21) as a reminder of the sufferings the Israelites underwent and the hastiness of their departure. It was a celebration of thanks to God for the past and of hope for the future.

Jesus tells the disciples they are to contact a man who will provide all that they need for a Passover meal. During the meal Jesus drops the bombshell: “One of you is about to betray me (in the Greek, ‘hand me over’). It is revealing that none of them points a finger at someone else. “Is it I, Lord?” Each one realises that he is a potential betrayer of Jesus. And, in fact, in the midst of the crisis they will all abandon him.

Nor is it one of his many enemies who will hand Jesus over. No, it is one of the Twelve, it is someone who has dipped his hand into the same dish with Jesus, a sign of friendship and solidarity.

All of this has been foretold in the Scriptures but how sad it is for the person who has to take this role, even though it is a role he has deliberately chosen. There is a certain cynicism when Judas asks with an air of injured innocence, “Not I, Rabbi, surely?” “You have said so,” is Jesus’ brief reply.

The whole approaching drama is now set in motion.

Let us watch it carefully during the coming three days not just as spectators but as participants. We too have so often betrayed Jesus, we too have so often broken bread with Jesus and perhaps have sold him for money, out of ambition, out of greed, out of anger, hatred, revenge or even violence for our own personal gain.

We can, like Judas, either abandon him in despair or, like Peter, come back to him with tears of repentance.


Sarah in the tent said...

'He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let him confront me.
See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?'

This is very similar to the bold way Our Lord confronts the Pharisees in John 8:16-18

'And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me. Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two men can be verified. I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.'

'They paid him thirty pieces of silver'

They must have trusted him, because they paid him in advance. Nor did he spend the money in the meantime. So he was obviously creditworthy within the Temple. Was there a connection between Judas and the money lenders? Had Judas himself set up shop as a kind of bank? Perhaps he issued them with a kind of bond as a receipt for the money. Who put the money up and how was it accounted for? How is it that they could pay out blood money, but not receive it?

I also see something of the Chief Financial Officer about Judas. Whatever the business of your company - making cars or selling food - the CFO 'knows' that it is really all about the money. The bossy self-righteousness of Judas when Mary annoints Jesus is like the CFO flexing his muscles. The CFO also sticks very close to the CEO (as Judas does to Our Lord).

'He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me.'

Another flight of fancy, I'm afraid, father! Perhaps the dish here could also be a dish of water in which the leader of the feast ritually washes his hands (like the priest at mass). Judas, in his pride (and perhaps also in his shame at taking the 30 pieces of silver) takes it upon himself to wash his hands like a kind of co-leader of the feast. This would distinguish him from the other disciples, who all shared the dish of food.

Anonymous said...

From what I've read, the greatest mark of esteem a host can pay his guest is to select a choice morsel out of the common dish and place it in his guest's mouth. Jesus knew this and Judas would have known this too, and yet, for Judas, it made no difference in his choice to betray Jesus.

At every Mass, we too, are given the choicest morsel...oh long does it take before it makes no difference in each and everyone of us? Thank God we have Peter's act of betrayal, sorrow and repentance...Judas or Peter, the choice is ours.