Facing Facts

There is a line in today’s first Mass reading (Isaiah 49.1–6) that may have haunted Jesus during the course of this week:

I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain, I have exhausted myself for nothing.’

How many of us have felt like that when something we cared about greatly has ended in apparent failure? It may have been a project or a relationship, even what we understood to be our vocation in life. Was Jesus troubled by such thoughts in the days between his entry into Jerusalem and his anguish in Gethsemane, the thought that he had failed his Father, failed in his mission? Failure is hard to bear and is made harder still when we believe we have done everything we can to ensure success. We cannot even comfort ourselves, if that is the right word, with a regretful ‘if only I had done so and so.’ There was nothing more we, or Jesus, could do; there are no alternative scenarios we can invent to take refuge in, we must simply face facts.

Facing facts is what Holy Week is about: facing the facts of sin and death and seeing how they are transformed by Jesus’ acceptance of death on the cross and his resurrection on Easter morning. This is the week when Jesus’ love and trust were tested to the utmost, when he plumbed the depths of human despair and suffering and rose triumphant. We must do the same. We must learn afresh our need of God, experience again our utter reliance on him, if we are to share his resurrection. That will mean, for most of us, plumbing the depths of our own sin and failure, bringing to God all that we are, all that we have failed to be, trusting, as Jesus and the prophet Isaiah trusted, that

all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.


True Glory: Tuesday of Holy Week 2016

‘Glorified’ is a word we rarely use today except in a dismissive or sarcastic sense, e.g. ‘a glorified B and B’ means an inferior hotel, a pretentious establishment with no substance to its claims. It is a word, however, that we shall hear again and again during Holy Week. Today it occurs in both Mass readings. In the passage from Isaiah, (Is 49.1–6), the Lord is quoted as saying ‘You are my servant (Israel) in whom I shall be glorified.’  In the gospel (Jn, 13.21–33, 36–38) as soon as Judas has gone out, Jesus says

Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.

The compilers of the lectionary wanted us to make the connection between the Servant and the Son, but is there something more, something this word ‘glorification’ and its analogues is meant to convey? What is the true glory here?

Clearly, the obedience of both the Servant and the Son is crucial to our understanding of what is going on. We sometimes forget that it was not Christ’s death as such that redeemed us but his obedience to the Father — which necessarily involved death on the Cross. The vocation of the Servant in Isaiah transcends his own earlier imaginings, his all-too-human conception of success and failure; so too with the Son. At the very moment Judas sets out to betray him, Jesus utters his passionate declaration that he is already glorified, that God is glorified in him. As so often in John, the words read like the choreography of a divine embrace, with Father and Son rapt in love and mutual trust and understanding. For now, we are outside, we cannot follow, we cannot share. Like Peter, we protest our love and devotion, but to no avail. Only when the Son of Man is lifted up will he draw all to himself. Only then will we too be glorified in him and share that divine embrace.