Wednesday of Holy Week 2013: Spy Wednesday

Today we read Matthew’s account of Judas’s betrayal (you can read the text in both Greek and English here). We sense the shiver down the spine of Jesus as he looked at his friend and knew him for what he was. If you read what some people say about about that moment, you could be forgiven for thinking Jesus was prohesying eternal punishment — ‘better for that man if he had never been born!’ — but I wonder whether that is true. Does it square with what we know of him in other circumstances, what we know of him from our own experience? Isn’t it more likely that when Jesus looked at Judas he saw the depths of despair and misery into which he would fall? My own, possibly heretical, reading of this gospel is that Jesus’ heart ached for Judas. He longed to spare him the suffering he knew would be his.

That presents us with a problem. God is infinitely just and does not condone sin; he is also infinitely merciful and forgives readily. So, is Judas eternally damned or among the redeemed? We do not know, and the fact that we do not know should give us pause. Sometimes Christians speak of Judas with a fury which tells us much more about them than it does about him. There is no place in Holy Week for that kind of vicarious anger. We do not need to look very deep into our own lives to see the sins that mar us. Today would be a good day for repenting of hasty judgements and hardness of heart, and allowing God to forgive us.

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The Shame of Holy Week

We read Matthew’s account of the betrayal today, but it is set in context by being linked with Isaiah 50. Jesus is not a victim in the sense that we usually use that word. He gives his life; it is not taken from him. But Matthew is harder on Judas than John is. Instead of a last, intimate dialogue which could have led to a different outcome, we have a brazen Judas defying Jesus, almost goading him to unmask him.

Here is the shame of Holy Week, when Truth stands before all our lies and half-lies. There is no confrontation, no attempt to challenge the falsity. The shabbiness of betrayal and deceit is shown up for what it is, but Jesus’ response to Judas is one of anguish, not condemnation. The medieval poets understood this better than most. They move from voice to voice, from Christ to the onlooker and back again, their lines marked with a huge compassion simply expressed. Christ is the noble lord betrayed by his beloved . . . ‘Lovely tear from lovely eye, why dost thou look so sore?’ . . . The believer can only mourn the wrong which results from that betrayal:

With sadness in my song
And grief at what I see
I sigh and mourn the wrong
Upon the gallows-tree.

We are very close to the Sacred Triduum now. Today is a day for confession of sins and a firm purpose of amendment. Sometimes the only way of dealing with shame is to acknowledge the source of it and allow God’s healing grace to flood the soul.

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