It would have been difficult enough to countenance the betrayal of one close friend. This week, however, Jesus will find himself abandoned by all but three. The throngs of followers have dispersed. His disciples will be in hiding. They will deny him and quietly question how one so powerful could allow himself to be subjected to this fate. Only the Blessed Mother, Mary Magdalene, and the beloved disciple will stand by him in his agonizing final moments. They will hear his heart breaking as he cries out to the silence that watches and contains the suffering of that cross.
This did not come as a surprise to him. The Lord knew. He wept ardently in Gethsemane in anticipation of the darkness that would engulf him. He knew the night of our sin would fall on his soul with unspeakable cruelty. This radical descent into the Godless recesses of our humanity by Jesus means that there is no corner we could turn in this life where G-d’s grace is not present. His descent illuminates our humanity with the depth of his love. He conquered the unconquerable parts of our humanity, so that when we struggle we might not despair; and when we cry out to G-d, we know we are heard.
In today’s readings, Jesus sets his fate in motion, urging Judas to do what he is going to do quickly. He braced himself for the kiss that would greet him upon Judas’ return. This week, the Lord teaches us radical, loving acceptance of the most challenging of circumstances and gifts us with his indefatigable compassion. Let us meet our struggles, our losses, our foes, and ourselves with this radical, loving acceptance. This acceptance is not resignation, it is the contemplative awareness of the cross, the reconciliation of all things, here and now, in Christ.
“Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were dear friends of Jesus. In today’s Gospel, they prepare a dinner in his honor, recline at the table with him, and Mary even anoints his feet with precious oils; a gesture which deeply touches Jesus. The Lord appreciates every gesture of love we extend in his honor, but expresses particular fondness for the contemplative devotion which Mary models.
The Gospels relate another visit Jesus made to Bethany. We find Mary, once again, at the Lord’s feet in the scene. Martha, frustrated that Mary was not assisting her with preparations for the meal, raised the issue with Jesus.“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed—or indeed only one.Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Jesus is ever concerned with the intention behind our actions, be they religious or, in the case of dinner, more mundane. He is concern is for our spiritual wellbeing, always. Martha momentarily lost sight of Jesus when she was preparing the meal; distractions overtook her primary purpose. The difference between Christian service and social work is precisely this: working with and from the mercy of Christ in service of others. Contemplatives in action draw their inspiration from Mary and Martha, seeing Jesus in everyone they meet. Without our diligent Martha, there would be no context for the dinner and the visit of Jesus. However our service and fellowship must arise, as Mary demonstrates, from the love we share and become in intimate prayerful reflection with Christ.
Returning to today’s Gospel, we are just days away from Jesus’ arrest, when Judas reproaches Mary for her extravagant gesture with the oil. Judas no longer discerns the greatness which moves Mary to respond to Jesus with this gift. Greed, we are told, consumed his heart. It is the loss of money he mourns, with the Lord’s death just days away. Up until now, we see Judas performing all the external functions of a disciple, but his heart was elsewhere. He laid the groundwork for the betrayal of the Master with the lesser acts of betrayal. Surely the habit of siphoning funds from the purse eventually callused his conscience. We do not talk “sin” in our culture, but Judas exemplifies the gross brutality of what it means when we ignore or sweep a habit of lesser transgressions under the rug. Jesus is always most concerned with the context from which we act, the intentions of our hearts; knowing that the conscience is the precious origin of the good or the evil we bring into the world.
What would go through Judas’ mind when he listened to Jesus speak to this?
Did he assume that because Jesus did not reprimand him for stealing that he did not know what he was up to?
Do we dismiss the tiny transgressions in our own lives as harmless? Do we mistake the Lord’s mercy for tacit approval?
Mary’s gesture also foreshadows the anointing of the Lord’s burial. In the next few days we will walk with Jesus and his closest companions toward the Cross. Let us make the time to sit in quiet contemplation, as Mary did, and listen for the words the Lord speak to us…in the silence of our hearts, the readings, or the words of a friend. Let us listen to the circumstances in our lives, as they too have a way of disclosing lessons, if and when we choose to listen.
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death…
Winter is digging in its heels here in New York. I did not expect flurries in March when I stepped out for my morning decaf. It was chilly, but I managed a warm beverage, a bagel, and mindful walk to church.
Life is a delicate balance of grace and sacrifice, with the scales often tilting in favor of sacrifice. In my better moments, I recognize it all as grace; and even the occasions for sacrifice as nourishment for the Lenten journey. Other times, I dig in my heels and prolong my own discomfort with internal resistance that can only be undone by quiet time and Grace.
This Lent brought with it the gift of a deepening awareness of the words, “Thy will be done.” I did not realize until fairly recently just how much I kept tucked away in the “I have a handle on this” file. Countless decisions and goals were set in motion without being brought to the altar of prayerful reflection – not so much out of defiance as, perhaps, unacknowledged pride. “Thy will be done” is the path toward integrity in our lives. It is the lived expression of the first commandment, of the collaborative relationship that comes from participation in a life of Grace. It does not mean we do not take action. It means we rely on the Holy Spirit for strength, guidance, and wisdom as we move forward in action. When we order our lives in this way, our path becomes transparent and more grounded. Obstacles dissolve and a new orientation opens up. “Thy will be done,” is the message of Holy Week. It is surrender. It is faith. It is knowing that G-d always prepares an outcome that far exceeds our greatest expectations.
Is there a particular area (or areas) of your life that you would like to bring to the Lord this week? The transformative power of grace awaits us.
We are approaching the final stretch in our Lenten journey. The holiest days of the Christian calendar are upon us. I can hardly believe that Holy Week begins on Monday. Perhaps this weekend we can take an afternoon to quietly reflect on some of what has come up for us this past month and a half.
Where are we in our relationship with the Lord?
Where do we encounter resistance in our prayer life?
Are there measures we can take to facilitate our quiet time with the Lord? (i.e. unplugging, or waking up a little earlier in the morning.)
We have a full week of prayer, mass, and related services to draw us closer to the divine mystery we are commemorating this week. Do not be discouraged, if you fell behind in your practice or have not checked in as consistently as you had hoped. The Lord is waiting with an open heart and loving arms to receive your prayers, forgive any missteps, and heal your overburdened heart. We can begin to lay the groundwork for our journey next week by spending some time with the following passage, bringing a heart-centered awareness to our reading of it.
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods”‘? If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and Scripture cannot be set aside, can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
The union of the divine and human natures of Jesus represents an extraordinary moment for humanity. This self-gift allows us to participate in the fullness of grace that is made possible on the Cross. By taking on our humanity, Jesus made his divinity available to us. G-d’s sanctifying nature within us, opens the door to the healing, transformation, and contemplative awareness that unites us intimately with G-d. This is G-d’s great desire for us. Let this be our hope, our gratitude, and our humility as we move reverently toward the Cross and the mystery of the Empty Tomb this week.
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.”
A life in relationship with God entails listening. The Lord is constantly communicating with us. Love and grace are woven into every moment of our lives whether we are aware of it or not. Too often the goodness, the blessings, and the tenderness that comprise the hours of our days are lost on us. We hear only the drone of our devices, the team meetings, our interior regrets and anxieties – almost anything but the peace of Divine Presence, here and now. We are too busy moving from one task to another, focusing on the rise and fall of our emotions to notice the compassionate Presence that holds our existence together.
Just as we text or call our loved ones throughout the workday, it is a good idea to strategically carve out some time, perhaps five minutes in the middle of the morning and afternoon, for silent prayer. This simple habit, in addition to our morning and evening practice, will revitalize and harmonize our day. We cannot do much to control the ebb and flow of life as it occurs, but we can anchor ourselves in a place of spiritual wellbeing, and live these moments in the loving gaze of a merciful God.
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.