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Tuesday of Holy Week

April 11, 2006

Blessed Tuesday!

Isaiah 49:1-6 (despite apparent defeat, God has prepared His servant for a mission to the whole world)
Psalm 71:1-17 “I will sing of your salvation”
+John 13: 21-33, 36-38 (Jesus predicts Judas’ betrayal & Peter’s denial)

Little by little, Jesus continues to prepare us for the horrors on the horizon, to assure us that, despite appearances, everything is happening exactly on schedule. Not a single detail has been left to chance. He is the suffering servant of whom Isaiah prophesied, the sharp-edged sword (see Hebrews 4:12), the polished arrow, who will seem to have lived in vain (Isaiah 49:2, 4), not having freed His people from Roman oppression.

Israel expected the Messiah to be a national hero, who would spend His strength only for the Kingdom of David. God, the Infinite, has bigger plans. “It is too little, He says, for you to…raise up the tribes of Jacob…I will make you a light to the nations, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). This prophesy was repeated by the elderly Simeon when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple as an infant. “My eyes have witnessed Your saving deed displayed for all peoples to see: a revealing light to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people, Israel” (Luke 2:30-32, emphasis added).

That light, that glory which Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel (John 13:31-32), will shine from the cross and radiate throughout the entire world. It will contrast starkly with human sin, with human betrayal, failure and denial. There will be no mistaking the work of God, even as it turns all our preconceived notions on their head. God, and God alone, could pull off a triumph so contrary to our nature.

This triumph is intended for us…for all of us, and Peter and Judas are object lessons of what happens when we submit–or fail to submit–our failures to Jesus.

The love of God had died in Judas’ heart. His sin drove him to despair (Matthew 27:3-5). He knew that God knew. Jesus had expressed clearly that He knew exactly what Judas would do and that He loved him anyway (Matthew 17:22, Matthew 26:25, Mark 14:21). Jesus had left the door wide open for Judas to return, to repent and to let God set things right. But Judas would not repent. Yes, he regretted what he had done, but he would not change his life, humble himself before God and beg forgiveness. Judas was in control of Judas’ life and if he couldn’t set things right by himself then they’d just have to be wrong. But only God could set things right for Judas. And God did not force him.

Peter’s love for Jesus burned hot…but it quickly fell prey to fear when he found himself helpless in the face of overpowering injustice. Perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18), but he was still relying on his own imperfect love. In a moment of weakness he fell and did what he had sworn he would never do (Mark 14:31, 16:66-72). A cock crowed, Jesus’ penetrating gaze met his, and he remembered. He remembered not only the prediction, but also the love that had prompted it. And he wept bitterly (Luke 22:61). Spurred by Jesus’ love, Peter not only regretted his failure, he repented, rejoining the other apostles and bearing the weight of his guilt until Mary Magdalene’s bewildering news drove him out to Jesus’ tomb (John 20:1-7). He humbly faced the God he had denied, declaring his love until it hurt (John 21:15-17).

God turned this humility, fashioned from repented sin, into gain. Peter, who had ample evidence of the contrast between his own weakness and God’s strength, could be trusted to lead the flock, to rely entirely on God’s perfect love. Every time a cock crowed, he was reminded of the folly of trusting his own abilities. Stories passed on to us from the apostolic age say that for the rest of St. Peter’s life, he wept every time a cock crowed. In his letter to the Christians in Asia Minor, he cautioned his flock to bow humbly under God’s mighty hand, as he had done, and to stay sober and alert in their fight against the devil–a lesson he’d learned the hard way (I Peter 5:6, 8). Now that he was relying wholly on God, he was finally able to follow through with his promise, “I will lay down my life for You!” (John 13:37). He was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die the same way Jesus had.

The words Jesus spoke to Judas and to St. Peter have a special poignancy for us today. My friend, you will betray Me. You will deny Me in your words, thoughts and actions, in what you say and don’t say, in what you do and fail to do. I know it all before any of it happens. And despite everything, I love you. I still have a glorious future planned for you (see Jeremiah 29:11), and I can make even your sin work for you if you submit it to Me (see Romans 8:28). Do not let your heart be troubled. Do not lean on your own understanding (see Proverbs 3:5). Have faith in God and faith in Me (see John 13:26-27, 13:38, 14:1). Repent and believe in the Good News! (Mark 1:15) Turn your eyes to the light radiating from My cross. Open your heart beneath Mine to receive the cleansing, healing blood and water flowing from My pierced side. It wasn’t enough for Me to restore the survivors of Israel (Isaiah 49:6). I came for you.

May we learn from the experiences of Judas and St. Peter, trusting God’s perfect love when our imperfect love falls flat on its face. May we return to God with the humble love that leads to glory.

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