Wednesday of Holy Week: Surely not I?
Readings: Isaiah 50: 4 – 9; Psalm 69; Matthew 26: 14 – 25
It often surprises both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to learn just how much of what we say and hear every time we come to Mass is drawn from the Bible. Indeed, the Church’s liturgy is so suffused with Scripture that can think of the liturgy itself as a kind of performance or acting out of the history of our salvation as revealed in the Scriptures. However, unlike a play or a film, the Church’s liturgy does not simply re-tell the story of our salvation: our re-enactment of the Scriptures re-presents the saving life of Christ to the present moment. In other words, it is through the liturgy that the merit of Christ’s one sacrifice is applied to the here and now.
This sense that the liturgy is a dramatic re-presentation of salvation history through which Christ becomes really present is true of all the Church’s liturgies. The drama is especially ‘full’, however, during the Easter Triduum when we trace in detail the events that led to Jesus’s death, and then on to the glory of his Resurrection. We tell this story so carefully during this Easter season because through a deep involvement and immersion in the true story of our salvation, we become better disposed to embrace more deeply the new life of the Resurrection that Christ offers us. The liturgy invites us to put ourselves in the story and see the history of our salvation not as a gift given to a people that lived long ago, or to humanity corporately, but to each one of us personally.
Yet if we are to put ourselves into the story of this Easter Triduum then this immediately raises the question of which part we are to play, and as we know there are a wealth of characters to choose from. Some loyally stand by Jesus as he prays, they follow him to his trial, they help him carry his cross, they stand beside the cross in sorrow as he dies, they take care of his body and lay it in the tomb. Others sympathize with Jesus’s predicament but do not care enough to get involved and wash their hands of the affair. Still others plot his downfall and demand his crucifixion. In today’s Gospel we confront perhaps the most tragic figure of all, Judas, who sold both his friend and his hope for thirty pieces of silver.
Now Judas’s betrayal is a warning to us that we ought not to approach this Easter season too complacently and assume too quickly that we always stand on the side of righteousness. Over the course of our Christian lives most of us, to a greater or lesser extent, will play most of the roles I have outlined above: there will be times when we serve Christ with enormous generosity and love; there will also be occasions when through weakness we betray him. In our Gospel reading, all the apostles ask when they learn that there is a betrayer among them: ‘Surely not I?’ Yet all would be scattered when Jesus’s hour finally arrived. Crucially, however, all bar Judas had the courage to repent and come back: and Christ perfected these frail foundations and upon them built his Church.