Wednesday in Holy Week
Isaiah 50:4ff. God’s humble servant – the one who knows how to sustain the weary– was not rebellious, but sacrificed himself for the good of his people
Matthew 26:14ff. The patience of Christ, as he celebrates the Last Supper, knowing that Judas was about to betray him
Saved from Fear and Shame
Excerpts from a homily by Margaret D. McGee (margaretdmcgee.com)
When Isaiah says, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard,” he’s talking about that same place. It was usual in Isaiah’s day for Hebrew men to wear full beards, and pulling out a beard, besides being quite painful, was an attack on a man’s dignity. So the prophet is speaking of being in the hands of people who hurt him and who want to shame him.
Shame, and fear of shame – this is a hard place to go, and I don’t want to go there. Of course, it’s not as if I don’t know the way. Not as if I’ve never been. We start going to that place at a young age, and once we’re there, it can feel as if there’s no way out.You remember how in elementary school, you had to raise your hand to go to the bathroom? I don’t know how I got in this frame of mind, but I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t like for anybody to know that I had to go to the bathroom. So I’d wait for recess, or wait for lunch. I’d hold it. And, one day, seated at my desk during Show and Tell, I waited too long. The dam broke, and I wet my pants right there in front of everybody.
I hadn’t thought of that incident for years and years. The memory came to me while I was studying today’s scripture readings. And once that memory came, it was as if another dam broke, and other memories flooded out, some from long ago, others from just last week. Times when I was the one pointing my finger at someone else. Times when a loved one counted on me, and I didn’t live up to their trust. They felt betrayed, and I felt ashamed. Or maybe they didn’t live up to my trust, and I felt betrayed, and they felt ashamed. Illusions shattered, relationships wounded by pride, or shame, or the fear of shame. It’s a hard place to go, and we may not want to go there, but the truth is, we live in that hard place for much of our lives.
And in the gospel, we come to the moment when Jesus serves a piece of bread to Judas. Satan enters Judas’s heart, and he leaves this gathering of close friends to arrange for the arrest of his teacher, who loves him. Judas will live the rest of his short life in shame, his memory to be held in contempt for generations to come. The scene is told with great intimacy. After Jesus, troubled in spirit, declares that one of the people in this room would betray him, the gospel says that the disciples looked at one another. Who could it be? Peter motioned to one of them – the one whom Jesus loved – who was reclining next to him.
Then Jesus says something truly extraordinary. Judas is barely out of the room, when Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him.” Now. Right now. To ‘glorify’ is to make visible the presence of God, and Jesus says it happens at this moment. He goes on to say, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. … I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
He doesn’t say anything about Judas, about how disappointed he is in him, or how awful it feels to lose your trust in someone close to you. It’s almost as if Jesus didn’t lose anything, as if nothing changed from his standpoint between him and Judas. He says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Who in that room did Jesus love? Only one disciple is described as “the one Jesus loved.” But when Jesus tells the disciples to love one another as he loved them, clearly he’s speaking to every disciple. He loved them all. Without expecting perfection, or even ordinary loyalty, he just loved them. Immediately after this passage, Peter gets all gnarled up in his betrayal of the Lord. And Jesus, unsurprised, clear-eyed, loves him all the way through. To whom in that room did Jesus serve bread? Again, only one is named – Judas. But again, we know from other Gospel accounts that Jesus served them all on this night. He served himself to them, knowing that any one of them might betray him at any time. They were only human, just like us.
John’s gospel doesn’t say why Judas did what he did. No motivation is given. Based on that flood of memories I had, I wonder if Judas might have become suspicious of Jesus’ mission, or might have wanted to retaliate for some perceived slight to Judas’ own dignity. Whatever his motivation – suspicion, a sense of disillusionment, or disappointment, or just a simple lack of faith – Judas broke away. He left the room, and then unlike Peter, he couldn’t find his way back.
In the meantime, in that room, God’s saving grace is present and visible in Jesus. How? Jesus shows the way when he says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” That new commandment rests on an ancient and well-worn path. If we go back to the psalm, we hear of this path: “But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help, rescue me from sinking in the mire.” And in Isaiah we hear of this path, when he says, “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced … It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”
On this night, Jesus makes the path visible in the love he offers everyone in the room. He says, this is how you find the path and walk on it. Live in my love, as close to me as you can get, leaning right up against my bosom. This is the safe path through that terrible place where none of us want to go, and where, at one time or another, all of us live.
First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9
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? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
Gospel: Matthew 26:14-25
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.”