The Menace of Holy Week

Yesterday we read the story of Mary’s anointing the feet of Jesus at Bethany; today  the story of Judas’s betrayal at the Last Supper. Just like all those photographs of the Titanic setting out on its first and last voyage, there is a sense of impending loss, of a strange and violent ending.

Read at other times, the beauty of Mary’s gesture, the extravagance of that pound of pure nard poured over Jesus’ feet, the sheer innocence of her love and generosity are completely disarming. Read in Holy Week and the story is full of forboding: she is anointing Jesus as a preparation for his death, without knowing she is doing so. Likewise, the story of the Last Supper. At other times, we concentrate on Jesus’ gift of himself and rejoice, but today we hear the words ‘Night had fallen’ and know it is night in the soul as well as in the sky: Jesus is about to be betrayed by one he loves, and that betrayal will lead to torture and death.

I wonder what was in Judas’s mind. Did he know what he was doing? Was he a bad man, or was he merely portrayed as such by the early Church as they struggled to make sense of their experience? For me, the real menace of the story comes from thinking how easily it could be you or I making the same mistake as Judas — thinking we could force Jesus into proclaiming who he was and ushering in the Kingdom. As we know, Jesus did proclaim who he was, and his death and resurrection have ushered in the Kingdom, but not in the way Judas expected.

Today, if we can find a few minutes’ silence, it is good to reflect on Judas and pray that we may be kept safe from sin. Later this Week we shall see the duel between good and evil which took place, once for all, on the Cross, but we are deluding ourselves if we think that we can escape a similar contest in our own lives. ‘Deliver us from evil’ is not a prayer to be said lightly, but we can be confident that we shall be heard. Evil’s triumph is only transitory; death is never the end of the story.


17 thoughts on “The Menace of Holy Week”

  1. Thank-you, Dame Catherine, for putting it all into context. You are of course right about the dark side of Mary Magdalen’s gesture – dark for us because we know what is to come, but presume she did not. Or did she?
    And Judas is us. And Pilate is certainly us. I do certainly dwell on both of these and could not claim that I would never be either – I can see all too clearly how I would.
    Judas is the double agent in all the spy stories that have ever been written – presumably he persuaded himself that his loyalty should lie with the state, rather than the threat to established order represented by Jesus. And Pilate was in the same position. It is because they are not wholly evil that the story still has echoes today. Each needed to play his part in order for the events of Holy Week to play themselves out. We believe, don’t we, that Jesus’s crucifixion was pre-destined: for it to happen, these human elements were a necessary part.

    • Yes, Laura, I do so agree about Digitalnun’s guiding us through Holy Week. We are privileged to have this guide. Also I agree that we/ I have all these characters within – Judas, Martha, Pilate and the rest.
      But may I just question your reference to Mary Magdalene. The anointing we read yesterday took place at Bethany at the house of Martha and Lazarus and so it is likely that it was carried out by Mary of Bethany. There has been much confusion about and conflation of the different women named Mary and to my mind tarnishing of the image of the Magdalene, let’s not add to it.

  2. Ah, what a beautiful post, every bit of it.
    Jesus being betrayed by one he loves. It is obvious, of course, but I had forgotten it.
    The night of the soul.
    The struggle between good and evil, something some of us feel so accutely sometimes.
    Thank you, thank you for this.

  3. What challenges me is wondering what are Judas’ motives for the betrayal – does he imagine he wil goad Jesus into action? Does he think, as Jesus sends him away, that he is part of the grand plan?

  4. Poor Judas – one terrible mistake and no going back. We could so easily do the same. For most of us the mistakes – or bad deeds – of our lives can be remedied. What despair when they cannot be. And Judas will pay the same price as Jesus, he too will die in agony.

  5. Thank you for your comments.

    Laura, you are, as always, very generous. I think it was a slip of the cyberpen that led you to add Magdalene to Mary’s name. It is the sister of Lazarus and Martha I was referring to here.

    Patricia, although it’s not the point you are making, I’d want to add that the image of Mary Magdalene has been tarnished most unfairly. Some of our early Christian writers were a little quick to assume the seven exorcized demons included the demon of lust!

    Claire, there is a chink of light. Immediately after that sentence about the darkness Jesus exclaims, ‘Now I am glorified’. The darkness of betrayal and the glory of the Cross come together.

    Mairie, shall we ever know? Do we even know our own motives half the time?

    Anne, I recall those words in the Dialogues of St Catherine of Siena, where it is stated that the despair of Judas caused God more pain (if one may use such language of God) than his betrayal. Whatever, as they say. I think we should pray for Judas. It’s not currently fashionable to want to have hell empty but Holy Week reminds me, at least, that salvation is a totally unmerited gift offered to all of us.

  6. Yesterday I read the whole of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by St John so that I might place the readings in the context of the whole of the Gospel. (I am come recently to reading Holy Writ.) My heart is astir and my mind strains to understand.

    The text leads me to ask myself what do I believe, and why? I don’t understand all that Jesus speaks to us therein. It begs further study. In my heart I believe, no question.

    About Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus, given that God’s plan required betrayal by one of the twelve, I could see that none would have the task, and that Judas may have done unwilling (and out of love and duty to God) what the others would not do. He backs out too late tossing the coins back in remorse and horror. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it. I know there are other ways of understanding Judas, but I can’t help thinking that Jesus needed him to do exactly as he did. I ask myself could I love so much as to betray, in obedience, the One I love for greater purpose. If I did I think I might go mad too.

    I feel it a blessing and a grace to us all to walk “inch by inch” with Jesus through his dark time with the kind light of this blog. Deo gratias.

  7. Well not to want seem contrary, but Judas’ betrayal, although and act of infamy, could be seen to be necessary in the light of prophetic fulfillment. Is betrayal a sin? Judas would appear not to have borne false witness, simply to only have identified (and thus verifying his identity and position by one of the “inner circle” ) Jesus. Judas’ suicide, though was indeed a sin. What inspired the motives we may never know. The Gospels suggest that Jesus foresaw (John 6:64, Matthew 26:25) and allowed Judas’s betrayal (John 13:27-28)..
    The great Judas betrayal paradox is this – Judas is apparently bound up with the fulfillment of God’s prophecies (John 13:18, John 17:12, Matthew 26:23-25, Luke 22:21-22, Matt 27:9-10, Acts 1:16, Acts 1:20), yet Jesus states ” woe is upon him, and he would have been better unborn” (Matthew 26:23-25) – thus if Judas had not been born, the Son of Man would apparently not fulfill “as it is written of him”. The conclusion of this apologetic approach is that Judas’s actions come to be seen as necessary and unavoidable, yet leading to condemnation.
    In mid 2006, a Coptic papyrus manuscript titled the Gospel of Judas from 200 AD was translated, suggesting that Jesus told Judas to betray him, although most scholars question the current translation. Origen wrote of a view that a wider circle of disciples were involved in the betrayal, and Origen did not hold Judas as being totally corrupt and damned.
    On Pilate. Pilate was acting as a Roman procurator, and during the major religious festivals in Judea, one of his main duties (indeed perhaps the most important one) was to maintain civil order. He had two options, carrot or stick. By going along with the Jewish leaders, he offers the carrot, and avoids the use of the military force stick, thus ensuring a peaceful (relatively) Passover. He was a not well liked local procurator (understatement galore!) , so this may have seemed a “better way” to him at the time.
    Perhaps it’s too much intellectualizing what are matters of faith, but Sister C’s approach of “walking the walk” through Holy Week sure does get the little grey cells percolating..

    • Yes, I do agree that these posts and the comments set one thinking, reading and reflecting.
      I am struggling with ‘glory’. The word in various forms, ‘Now I am glorified’ as quoted above for example, appears again and again in John’s Gospel. Like Margaret, my focus is on John this Lent.
      Despite searching various on-line commentaries, I’m not grasping what is meant by ‘Glory’/’Doxa’.
      Can anyone help me out with this one?

          • A quick search indicates this book was written by a former Archbishop of Canterbury. When it comes to theology I personally look for the imprimatur and nihil obstat as my guide to teachings in line with the Catholic Church. This is not to suggest the book in question does not have validity, merely that it may not be in line with the approved teachings of the Church.

  8. and its been a long time since any serious philosophy studies..
    I seem to remember that the root “doxa” is Greek for “common belief” . Digging back through some ancient notes (the bits I can read 🙂 ) suggests that “doxa acquired a new meaning when the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek from the origianl Hebrew (aka, the Septuagint). The scholars translated/transposed the Hebrew word for “glory” ( which is anglicized as kavod) to doxa.”
    This excerpt says it better than I can..
    “The Septuagint was commonly used by the early church and is quoted frequently by the New Testament authors. The effects of this new meaning of doxa as “glory” is evidenced by the ubiquitous use of the word throughout the New Testament and in the worship services of the Greek Orthodox Church which reflects behavior or practice more so than personal opinion. This semantic shift in the word doxa is also seen in Russian word slava, which means glory, but is used with the meaning of belief, opinion in words like православие (pravoslavie, meaning orthodoxy, or, literally, true belief).”

    So, I would figure that to be “glorified” in this sense means that you are now a focus of true belief, whereas prior, one was not.
    Harold (who could always be wrong, been known to happen.. 🙂 )

  9. Thank you. The concept of glory is, as Harold indicates, fraught with meaning and shifts of meaning. It would be a good subject for another post although, as you know, I prefer to keep mine on the short side and let YOU do the thinking. Blessings.

  10. Thank you all for your leads and warnings about ‘Glory’. I shall certainly follow them up with more reading and reflecting. It is amazing how much this blog allows us to put our digital heads together.

  11. Just an addendum to Harold’s comment. I would say that Michael Ramsey was one of the finest theologians, Catholic or Anglican, to grace the English-speaking world in the twentieth century and you will find nothing in the book referred to inconsistent with Catholic teaching. Of course, I am not a theologian . . . though I do read quite a lot of theology . . . I’d just be sorry if anyone were to miss out on something so outstandingly good.

Comments are closed.