Glory and Betrayal – Father Roger Landry
Today in the readings we have a strong contrast between glory and betrayal and also see the paradoxical connection between them both. Grasping this connection is essential for us to enter into the depth of mysteries we celebrate in Holy Week and is also essential for us to respond to our sufferings and the sufferings of others.
In the first reading today we encounter the second of four of the Suffering Servant Songs in Isaiah. The Prophet begins by describing his own biography and foretells Jesus’ own: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name,” something that happened when the Archangel appeared to Mary. Describing Jesus’ hidden life in Nazareth, he continued: “He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me.” Then he turns to the tribulations he has suffered and how the Lord seeks to bring good out of them. “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.” The purpose of all of them is to save Israel and save the world. “For now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him. … It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This lumen gentium is going to be for his glory and for God the Father’s glory. God pronounced earlier in the passage, “You are my servant … through whom I show my glory” and here through his service in gathering back not only the lost tribes but the entire human race that glory of God will be shared with his servant: “And I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord, and my God is now my strength!” That’s what’s happening from God’s perspective.
In the Gospel today, Jesus picks up on that message of the glory of God and of his suffering servant. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him,” Jesus exclaims. “If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once.” The glory that Jesus is describing is the glory precisely of the epiphany of God’s merciful love shown by Jesus in all that he was willing to do to save Israel and redeem the world. We see a glimpse of that glory in how Jesus responds to the double-betrayal that is described before and after Jesus’ words about his present (“now”) and imminent (“will glorify”) glorification.
The first betrayal is by Judas. Jesus announces that one of the Twelve is about to betray him. Everyone was at a loss as to whom the traitor would be. In the other accounts, they were all saying, “Surely it is not I, Lord.” It shows just how masterful an actor Judas Iscariot was that he could have concealed his treachery from everyone except Jesus. But Jesus’ words were not just a prophecy, but they were a call to mercy, a chance for Judas to recognize that what he was about to do was already known and a chance to change course. When Peter asks John (who was reclining on Jesus’ right) to ask Jesus who it is, Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” Then he gave it to Judas. In this gesture there are two great signs of Jesus’ mercy toward Judas that those who don’t understand the culture of Jesus’ time will miss. The first is that to give someone food as Jesus gave to Judas was a sign of tremendous respect. It was an act of tender love. The fact that Jesus was able to give it to Judas was another sign. Meals like the Last Supper would take place in the form of a U with the principal host at the head of the curve. There were no tables per se, everyone would recline on his left arm leaving the right arm to eat. They would lie angled to the table so that the head of the one on one’s right would basically be in the chest of the one on his left. That’s how it’s said that St. John, who was on Jesus’ left, was leaning on his breast. The host would always place the guest of honor on his left. The fact that Jesus could give the morsel to Judas meant that Judas was seated as the guest of honor. Jesus was resting his head in Judas’ breast. But even that sign of honor didn’t suffice. When Judas received the morsel — we don’t know whether it was Jesus’ body or just a piece of bread — St. John tells us, “Satan entered into him.” Jesus could see it. His works of presenting another path to his freedom hadn’t gotten him to convert. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” He didn’t embarrass him. He didn’t expose him. If the other apostles knew what he was about to do, he likely would never have been able to leave the Upper Room. Jesus would give him another chance when he would call him “Friend” later in the Garden, but Judas betrayed him with a sign of love, blistering his cheek with a kiss of betrayal. The great sadness is that Judas would be dead before even Jesus breathed his last. This was the last night of Judas’ life. But unlike the Good Thief who took advantage of the Lord’s mercy, Judas was choosing Satan in his heart rather than God. Nevertheless, when Judas went out into the “night” — he was already in darkness — Jesus began to speak of his glory, because God was going to bring that glory out of his betrayal, the light of the darkness of betrayal.
We also see another betrayal, that of Peter. After Jesus describes that his apostles can’t come where he is going now but will come later — he’s talking about death and resurrection — Peter protests, saying “I will lay down my life for you.” But Jesus tells him, much to the fisherman’s incredulity, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” As we discussed on Sunday contemplating Jesus’ words to him about vigilance and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter’s spirit was willing but his flesh was weak. Peter’s humiliating betrayal of Jesus, however, would not only lead to the glory of Jesus’ mercy as Jesus would give Peter after the Resurrection a three-fold reconstituting commission out of love for him to feed and tend his sheep and lambs, but it would also lead to Peter’s glory, as he would follow Jesus as another would stretch out his arms and drag him in crucifixion to a place he didn’t want to go. The difference between Peter’s betrayal and Judas’ was that Judas’ was one of calculation, Peter’s one of weakness. And after their betrayals, Judas only had remorse; Peter had repentance. Judas had never grasped all of Jesus’ words and deeds about God’s mercy, his parables of the lost sheep, coin, and Son, his forgiving sinners like the woman caught in adultery. Peter had grasped this and that if the Lord were calling him to forgive 70 times 7 times, then the Lord, too, would be merciful even after a betrayal. A great lesson for us if we learn from Peter and come back to the Lord to ask for forgiveness in the way Jesus himself established.
As we now enter into the same Last Supper in which today’s Gospel scene occurred, we ask the Lord for the grace never to betray him through calculation and to strengthen us to minimize our betrayals out of weakness by the morsels of his own life that he will put into our mouths. We ask him through his Holy Communion to convince us, like he convinced his apostles, of the path of Christian glory, which is the path of self-sacrificial merciful love, so that we may be glorified with him in the eternal glory of the Father.