The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Psalm 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 AND 33-34
It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that shame has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children.
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
Insults have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
In the scriptures today, we read the beginning of the sufferings of Our Lord as the betrayal of Judas sets His Passion into motion. Presented with the image of the Suffering Servant and the one who betrayed Him to suffering, we are drawn to reflect on these two and the events that drove them to this fateful moment.
We are not explicitly told what drove Judas to betray Jesus, but we can form a good picture from what we are told about him and about the events leading up to Jesus’s Passion. Judas loved money, and his idol of money enslaved him in the sin of stealing. It is curious that Judas would feel the need to steal, especially when we read the account of Jesus sending His disciples into the city to find a place to keep the Passover, just one out of multiple times in the scriptures when the needs of Jesus and His disciples were met seemingly out of nowhere. Another is when the disciples fetched the donkey for Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem, and “the master has need of it” was all anyone needed to know; or when Jesus multiplied food in the wilderness; or when He sent Peter to catch a fish with a coin in its mouth for the temple tax. But Judas seems to want the cold, hard cash in his hand; the currency that is fluid, that gives him the control to turn it into whatever he wants whenever he wants. So between this detached, dependent, and provided for life of faith that comes with following Jesus and the life of control and self-seeking that Judas wants, the tension has grown to the breaking point.
On top of this, Jesus has been striking down Judas’s idol of money. Jesus has overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple, reproaching them for their thieving practices and profaning His Father’s house. And He has accepted the generous gift of ointment poured out upon Him, which Judas, in his avarice, considered wasteful. On top of this, after the incident in the temple but, mostly, after the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus’s enemies have become determined to put Him to death. Judas may have been afraid of what would happen to him if Jesus were taken, and seen an opportunity to come out on top. Finally, we read in the gospel that, while the other disciples call Jesus “Lord”, Judas calls Him “Rabbi”. Some scripture scholars have taken this to mean that Judas had never received or acknowledged Jesus as his lord. And the upshot is that he made a tragic choice.
It is useful to examine Judas because we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and all turn to Jesus like the disciples at supper asking, “surely, not I, Lord?”. We sometimes want the control and the say in our own lives, rather than submitting to the dependence and obedience of faith. But we know if we stay close to Jesus, He will always convict us, heal us, and protect us from progressing in sin. He always convicts His disciples of their wrong behaviors and attitudes, whether convicting Judas of his betrayal or calling out the disciples for arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus shows that He already knows their weakness, and He loves them enough to help them by naming it and calling them higher. So with us there is nothing that is not already seen by Him and understood by Him, and He is ready to help us name, move past, and rise above.
It is also useful to examine Jesus’s example in accepting the suffering sent Him, as He is betrayed and begins His Passion. For Jesus also calls us into this, beyond being the one forgiven to the one who also forgives, and beyond the one who is called to the one who also calls. Rejection and betrayal, opposition and confrontation come with this call. We know and believe that on the other side of these difficulties is the resurrection, the glory and the power of God, and the joy of salvation. But in the waiting, in the tension of the here and now, these can feel very far away.
Today, as we end the season of Lent and prepare to celebrate the Triduum, let’s open our hearts to Jesus, and give Him all the pain we may be in from our own sins, sins of others against us, and from the trials and difficulties of trying our best to live as disciples while still waiting to see the rewards of discipleship. Let’s ask for a greater trust and faith in our dependence on His timing and His provision, and for the joy of a greater love that believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.