Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"Mercy within mercy within mercy!"

The Gospel for Holy Wednesday is John 13:21-32:

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.'"

I love the picture above, by an unknown artist from an unknown time.  If you look closely, you can see that it includes visually most of the elements of the story which John relates: "the one whom Jesus loved", presumably John, eyes closed, looking for all the world as though he has an Excedrin headache (probably because of the bad news he's just received about Brother Judas); white-haired, venerable Peter on the right, resuming the finger-pointing direction of #1, #2, and #4 Right, presumably after Peter had just conned John into getting the scoop from Jesus on who the betrayer was; Judas, crouching at the table on the opposite side from the others, trying to look innocent and devotional; and Jesus, gazing somberly straight ahead, nevertheless extending the gift of bread to Judas.

There's an interesting variety among the Gospel accounts as to "Who dunnit?"  John notes: "The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking."  In the picture above, presumably a fresco or a wall painting, the first, second, and fourth apostles on the left side are each pointing to the person on their left; the third disciple apparently either can't decide, or else is deliberately hiding his hand.  Why is the fifth apostle pointing back in the other direction??  Is he indicating all those who are to his right?? or perhaps only #3?? On the right-hand side Peter is the only one pointing his finger, interesting in light of his own betrayal of Jesus later on that night.  There's undoubtedly a "pointed" (forgive the pun) lesson there for all of us! All the other four on the right seem to be either: a) non-committal or hiding their hands like # 3 Left; b) totally focussed on the drama happening between Judas and Jesus; or a little glazed-over from too much supper wine! At any rate, the artist certainly gives an obvious hint as to the fact that there is a blame-game going on.  John spoke in his account of uncertainty, possibly suspicion, among the apostles about the betrayer. Matthew has each one, even Judas, exclaiming, "Surely not I, Lord?"  Mark describes them as "distressed" and saying, "one after another, 'Surely, not I?'" Luke's account is a bit more subtle: Jesus says, "...woe to that one by whom [the Son of Man] is betrayed!".  Then he notes: "They began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this."

When we get to the bottom-line, we have to admit that, though Judas was certainly blatant about his betrayal of Jesus, each of the apostles and all of us have had our part in it, if we're honest.  Time and again we've sold him out for a convenient price in our own self-interest.  The strange thing about Jesus, though, is that, as with Judas, he continues to "gift" us also.  He certainly probably doesn't like some of the uncaring, insensitive, really stupid stunts we pull.  But amazingly he never lets that get in the way of his friendship and love for us.  And the Church gives us this whole, wonderful Holy Week to think about that and to absorb its overwhelming message and reality.

I'm reminded of the end of Thomas Merton's book, The Sign of Jonas, where the voice of God is heard in paradise:

"I have always overshadowed Jonas with my mercy,
and cruelty I know not at all.
Have you had sight of Me, Jonas My child?
Mercy within mercy within mercy!"    

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