15th April. Tuesday in Holy Week
First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-6
(God’s true servant, whose ministry seems to be a failure, but bears great fruit.)
Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength — he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Gospel: John 13:21-33, 36-38
(Jesus warns of betrayals; but if they remain faithful, they will follow him “hereafter”.)
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples — the one whom Jesus loved — was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival;” or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.”
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.
Success out of failure
For the first followers of Jesus, his condemnation and brutal execution must surely have seemed like total failure. To those who stood at a distance watching him die on the cross (Mk 15:40) and the others who had fled for safety but who heard of the crucifixion later that evening, it seemed like the end of an inspiring movement that had first filled them with hope and enthusiasm but now seemed only a great delusion. With the death of Jesus, all their hopes based on him as their leader lay in ruins. Whatever predictions he had made about his suffering and subsequent rising had not been taken seriously, either by Peter or the others (Mk 8:32).
Only later, after their glimmering, stuttering visions of his risen presence, did they get to reflecting seriously on Our Lord’s predictions. In this they were greatly helped by some studious member of their group who first got the insight that all Jesus’ sufferings were foretold in prophecy; and most clearly in the Isaiah poems about God’s loving Servant. It suddenly dawned on the early Christians that words first spoken about the whole people of Israel now found their full meaning in Jesus. In him God’s message was fulfilled, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” Our Lord’s apparently futile attempt to renew and purify his Jewish people would not end with the crucifixion. Through this loving outpouring of his life, he achieved more than to “raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel.” It’s fruit was exactly what, in Saint John’s account, it was meant to be: for the sake of people everywhere (“I will draw all people to myself!”) The early church saw in Jesus the fulfilment of Isaiah 49:6, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
In his Last Supper story, John interweaves the two strands: apparent failure and ultimate triumph. Even among the Twelve, Jesus has to contend with one who will betray him, another who will deny him, and their general incomprehension of what he wishes to tell them on the eve of his Passion. And still the Evangelist is convinced that Jesus himself faced this supreme trial with a firm hope that through the willing acceptance of the Cross, “God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” This is also our hope, as a Christian community gathered around his memory, in loving prayer, this Holy Week.