I usually take the day off from work today. I do my best to unplug and make my way to three o’clock service. Today, I confess, I edited a document, scrolled through my twitter feed, and spent more time than I should have thinking about the UPS delivery that did not arrive. I also managed to stay out of shops, close to family, and observed reverent awareness for much of the day. It is a challenge in our digital culture to step out of time and into the solemnity of days like today. It is a day of commemoration, of fasting, and prayer for Catholics the world over. Although, I have to admit, we have a lot to learn in this regard from our Jewish brothers and sisters. They know how to fast, unplug, and attend (long) services on the High Holy Days. Most of us tend to backstroke in comparison. At least, I do. But we do what we can, knowing that what we offer in humility is accepted with great love.
Today, Good Friday, Divine Mercy entered humanity through the breaking of the Divine Man on the Cross. When that which was finite in Christ, his humanity, was killed; that which was Eternal, his Divine Nature, poured forth and subsumed broken humanity (his and ours) in Divine Mercy. Today we commemorate the grain of wheat falling to the earth and dying. Sunday, however, we will celebrate the Mystery of the Resurrection; the emergence of the Divine Mercy in and through Christ, transforming our broken humanity into the fullness of Life. Divine Mercy is who Jesus is and who we are asked to become. The Lord’s death burst open time itself and the outpouring of Mercy has not ceased since that afternoon of agony on Calvary two millennia ago.
We will celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday the Sunday after Easter. It concludes the Octave of Easter. Today, Good Friday, those of us with devotion to the Divine Mercy of God begin nine days of prayer, a novena, leading up to the feast day of Divine Mercy. I will be including a link to these prayers in our reflections this week.
Jesus reclined at the table with his friends, knowing that Judas was plotting to betray him for thirty pieces of silver.
Judas was a follower and a friend of Jesus. Jesus chose Judas from among his many followers to be one of the twelve. He was handpicked and welcomed into the inner circle of Jesus. He ate with Jesus. He traveled with him. He witnessed power go forth from Jesus and transform lives.
Judas knew and loved Jesus, but most likely struggled with the apolitical, spiritually-centered path that Jesus had chosen. Judas is identified as a zealot in Scripture: an adherent of one of the prominent, revolutionary factions in first-century Palestine. Liberating Israel from Roman occupation was paramount in the belief structure of the Zealots; and the coming Messiah was believed to play an instrumental role in this coup. This is not the Messiah Judas encountered in Jesus. The Lord had no interest in challenging Rome. He chose, instead, to challenge women and men to greater compassion for another and a radical recommitment of their lives to God.
Judas had other ideas. He could not concede that there was another way. The spiritual freedom offered by Jesus did not derail Judas aspirations for an earthly kingdom. And this lack of humility cost Judas greatly. How often do we insist on our way, our own vision of what life should look like? Judas was not unique in this. Saint Teresa of Avila is said to have prayed for Judas daily. She understood that there was a time in her life when she, too, betrayed Jesus.
If we were to look for those thirty pieces of silver in our own lives, where would we find them? When and where are we most likely to betray our relationship with God? Wherever that happens to be, let us make sure we never despair as Judas did. The Lord’s mercy abounds. And Holy Week is the ideal time to invite God’s mercy into the places in our lives in most need of healing and transformation.
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.