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Spy Wednesday

March 23, 2005

Blessed Spy Wednesday!

Spy Wednesday is a popular term, not a liturgical one, yet it describes Judas’ new position among the disciples. Today he becomes a spy among the Twelve, an informer for the enemy, waiting for the opportune moment to hand over his Lord to condemnation and death.

Readings:
Isaiah 50:4-9 (God’s Suffering Servant is on a mission and will not be deterred)
Psalm 69:8-34 “Lord, in Your great love, answer me.”
+Matthew 26:14-25 (Judas’ first betrayal and Jesus’ subtle invitation to repentance)

In Judas we see sin embraced, and redemption rejected. He is an object lesson for James 1:14-15: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.”

Today Judas goes to the chief priests and sells Jesus for the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32). More accurately, he sells his own birthright, his throne in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:28), even as Esau sold his birthright for a meal of lentil stew (Genesis 25:29-34). He sells himself short.

We too, sell our birthright, sell ourselves short, whenever we sin. We may not sell our Baptismal innocence for the price of a slave. Maybe our price is a desire to gain others’ approval. After all, the chief priests and Pharisees had ordered that anyone who knew Jesus’ whereabouts ought to report it. Judas was just “following orders” (see John 11:56). Or maybe we want to be in control. Maybe we think we know better than God. This is one particularly deadly manifestation of pride. The fact that Judas’ remorse followed his learning that Jesus had been condemned to death (Matthew 27:3) suggests that Judas didn’t really expect Jesus to submit to torture and death. Judas may’ve thought he could force Jesus to display His power in a violent, military way that would culminate in the ejection of the Romans and the establishment of a Jewish monarchy.

We fall prey to this same sort of pride whenever we usurp authority that’s not rightfully ours. In addition to the more obvious cases of rebellion against human leaders, we overstep our rightful authority when we take matters of life and death and morality into our own hands, when we pick and choose which Church teachings to follow, and even when we give up hope, believing that not even God could redeem the mess in which we find ourselves. In fact, it’s often this very rejection of hope in God (which is a choice, not a feeling) that leads us to take matters into our own hands in the first place.

In Reality, we don’t know better than God. He sees all of time at once because He is timeless, eternal. He sees details within the big picture that we can’t even imagine. If we did manage to change His plan, we would only make things worse. When we’re in pain, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. It’s just that bitterness that Jesus did swallow, that cup (Matthew 26:39) He drank to its dregs when He set His face like flint, enduring the buffets and spitting, the insults and the hands that plucked His beard (see Isaiah 50:6, Matthew 26:67-68, Matthew 27:29-30).

In order to do this, to sacrifice Himself within His Father’s will, Jesus had to have His passions under control. He may have been sold for the price of a slave, but He was more free than the ones who “bought and sold” Him. St. James puts his finger on our lack of freedom when he writes: “”What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and you do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:1-3).

We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). If we’re serving our desires, we’re not serving God. It’s only when our desires serve us, when we can say “no” to them in service of a higher good, that God can give us the desires of our hearts. This is the freedom Judas lacked. His desires dragged him from the heights of honor within the ranks of the Apostles down to the depths of degradation and death. In his enslavement to his desires for money (John 12:6, Matthew 26:15), approval (John 11:56, Matthew 14:11) and control (Matthew 27:3-5), he was not free to receive the greater gifts God had prepared for him. Jesus even alerted Judas to the consequences of his sin: “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It were better for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24), but Judas was too enslaved by his own pride to submit himself to Jesus for forgiveness, to escape this awful sentence. Even after he realized what he had done, he again took matters into his own hands…and killed himself (Matthew 27:5). His desires had given birth to sin, which, when full-grown, brought forth death (James 1:15).

There is a better way.

May God help us gain the upper hand over our desires, that we may follow Him through suffering into the fullness of life.

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