Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday of Holy Week

“Betrayal of Judas” (detail) by Lippo Memmi,  c. 1340
Readings and Commentary:[3]
Reading 1: Isaiah 50:4-9a
The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
That I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
And I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
My face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.
The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let him confront me.
See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?
Commentary on Is 50:4-9a
This is the third of the four “Servant of the Lord” oracles from Isaiah. These four comprise the “Suffering Servant” that is the prophetic vision of the Messiah, describing the humble ministry of Christ.
In this passage the prophet describes his mission to “…speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” The “weary” are those ground down by oppression and the “Word” that will rouse them is hope in God. In doing this he has incurred the wrath of the powerful, the oppressors. In spite of the persecution he suffers, he is steadfast in his mission as his faith in God sustains him.
CCC: Is 50:4-10 713; Is 50:4 141
R. (14c) Lord, in your great love, answer me.
For your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother's sons,
because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
Insult has broken my heart, and I am weak,
I looked for sympathy, but there was none;
for consolers, not one could I find.
Rather they put gall in my food,
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving:
"See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not."
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.
This selection is an individual lament drawing heavily on the image of the faithful servant who suffers, but remains dedicated to God’s law and works. Even in the face of this intense social embarrassment, the psalmist must be faithful because “…zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.” The imagery in this song forces us to look forward to the Passion, as Christ’s punishment is prophetically envisioned. This passage is also quoted by the Lord’s disciples as Jesus cleansed the temple in John 2:13-17.
CCC: Ps 69:10 584
One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
"What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?"
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
the disciples approached Jesus and said,
"Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?"
He said,
"Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
'The teacher says, My appointed time draws near;
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.'"
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.
When it was evening,
he reclined at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating, he said,
"Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me."
Deeply distressed at this,
they began to say to him one after another,
"Surely it is not I, Lord?"
He said in reply,
"He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me
is the one who will betray me.
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born."
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply,
"Surely it is not I, Rabbi?"
He answered, "You have said so."
Commentary on Mt 26:14-25
This selection focuses on Judas striking the bargain with members of the Sanhedrin. The thirty pieces of silver is reminiscent of the price paid for the shepherd of the flock to be slaughtered in Zechariah (Zechariah 11:12). The event is followed by Matthew’s account of the selection of the place for the Last Supper. Jesus again tells the disciples that one of them will betray him. This time Judas, who has already committed to betray Jesus, compounds his sin as he answers, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
CCC: Mt 26:17-29 1339
We must taste the bitter if we are to enjoy the sweet.  Scripture, on this last day before the beginning of the Triduum, allows us to taste the sour of our mission, joined with Christ.  The “Suffering Servant” of the Prophet Isaiah feels the sourness of the humiliation and persecution he undergoes for the sake of God’s word.  Those he loves turn against him.  They spit upon him, degrading him.
Even the psalm recalls our obligation to endure ridicule for the sake of our faith as we hear: “For your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. I have become an outcast to my brothers.”  Both the psalmist and Isaiah tell us we will suffer these same indignities.  And yet, they encourage us to remain faithful and reap the sweet prize that flows from what is to come.
The Gospel too recalls for us the sour of Christ’s mission.  Even as Jesus prepares himself to leave us the great gift of his on-going presence in the Eucharist, the betrayer, Judas, plots the end of the Savior’s journey among us as man.  Even Jesus must taste the bitter in order to enjoy the sweet.
His bitterness and ours is that sin is still with us in the world.  In his case, we see the hatred of those in power attracting one of the Twelve who should have been above such greed.  With thirty pieces of silver they buy a betrayal, starting the swift slide into the Passion of our Lord.  The sin Judas commits was his failure to love.  He failed to love God, he failed to love his neighbor and, as his later suicide shows, he failed to love even himself.  How sour the taste of that betrayal. For Judas, there would never be a “sweet” end.
In our own mouths, as we contemplate our own betrayals, we too taste the sour; the sour of our failure to love God, the sour of our failure to love neighbor, and the sour of our failure to even love self.  Perhaps that is why we find it easy to forgive Judas, to find some pity for his plight.  On this, our last day before we plunge ourselves into the great feast of the Triduum, we taste the sour and pray for the sweetness of our Easter joy.

[1] The picture used today is “Betrayal of Judas” (detail) by Lippo Memmi,  c. 1340
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.

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