Irish literature is replete with the character of the betrayer – a friend, family member, - insider – who betrays the hero or heroine, usually unto death. The “judas” figure of history is without any question one of the most despised and despicable roles of all of human history. On this “spy Wednesday,” as this day in Holy Week used to be called, we are told the story of the actual human act of insider betrayal that made it possible for Jesus to be “taken” by the government and put to a tortured death.
I am not speaking here of naïve trust, but rather that mature trust of one who loves and trusts while knowing that another may fail, but hopes that she will not. If we honestly look at our own lives and experience we will discover that the most emotionally painful moments of our lives are those times when we recognize that someone we thought loved us and had our best interests at heart, in fact cared for someone else more or cared only for himself. Or perhaps we now realize that the most painful moments of our lives are those when we betrayed the loving trust of another and caused them the suffering attendant upon this day.
The liturgy, as every form of Christian prayer does, invites us to enter the mystery through our own experience. Here it is of being the betrayed or the betrayer – or, for most of us who have lived a few years – something of both! We can find ourselves in the Judas role, selling out the goodness of friendship, loyalty, compassion, truth for a better paid position, a better “name,” an association with more famous people, a more glamorous spouse, or any number of other very good reasons, and feeling the agony of self-loathing at our consummate disloyalty. Or we might better enter the prayer of the day by experiencing again the heart stab of betrayal by someone we thought truly loyal to us. In either case an intimate relationship with Jesus challenges us to respond to the human reality of betrayal differently than ordinary human literature. Whether our association with the events recorded in today’s Gospel is with Jesus’ suffering or Judas’, the invitation is to greater love: to loving forgiveness on the part of Jesus and to repentance and the reception of forgiveness as Judas did not.
Today’s readings and prayers offer us many avenues for entering more deeply into the mystery of Holy Week, I would conclude by offering two: first, a meditation on Jesus’ humanity and the incredible pain he must have known at Judas’ treachery – and then how deep must be his entirely human emotional pain at like betrayals of any of us who claim his Name and the power of his Spirit given in Baptism. Secondly, a meditation on the wondrous opportunity to suffer in Jesus’ name if I have been betrayed by someone close, and the even greater opportunity to forgive in Jesus Name and through the power of his Spirit. Either meditation challenges us to become both more fully human and more divinized through Christ.
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. (Is 50.4)
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