Tuesday, 11 April 2017
I hope you've got the keys to the Tardis in your handbags, because we've got a bit of zipping through time to do in these three days of Holy Week. Yesterday, St John took us back in time to the night before the events of Palm Sunday, and we heard how it was Mary who had listened and understood how Our Lord was going to be handed over to the Cross and how he would hand himself over to us. Mary’s response was to give without counting the cost, in contrast with Judas, so desperate for everything to be costed for usefulness. Interesting that it was a woman who understood Jesus better than any disciple, just as we commemorate the women weeping for him in the Stations of the Cross, and just as it was a woman, another Mary, who first saw him resurrected: especially since today, our gospel is a tale of two men, and both traitors.
I do love a good John le Carré novel, especially the ever-popular "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." Le Carré builds up a sympathetic portrait of the British spy Bill Hayden, trusty old reliable Bill, showing us all his deep friendships and loyalties, and then of course explodes them all when it turns out that Bill is the mole, the double-agent who has been selling MI6 out to Moscow all along. We have a national fascination with traitors like these - Tinker, Tailor became an incredibly popular TV series starring Alec Guinness, and more recently, a Hollywood film success - and there is no end of biographies and documentaries on the likes of real-life double-agents such as Kim Philby.
Take all these traitors back to their archetypal core, and you've got Judas. Not content to do things Jesus' way, like the Communist double-agents, he wanted radical change, revolution now. A pie-in-the-sky Kingdom of love and peace was no good: what was called for was immediate redistribution of wealth, a return of power to the Jewish people, by violence if necessary. And so, even while he lived among the students or disciples of Jesus, he was in the pay of rival authorities, waiting for the moment to spring the trap. We associate the betrayal of Jesus with the Garden of Gethsemane and the famous "Judas Kiss," but I would say that the decisive moment in Judas' betrayal - his handing over, his paradosis of Jesus - happens beforehand, in tonight's gospel. For this is where Jesus hands himself over to his disciples, in bread and wine. And they all take the bread - including Judas and Peter. They both receive him. And yet, in St Paul's words, they receive him unworthily, because they will both betray him.
But there is a difference. Peter will betray Jesus, yes: three times, before the cock crows. But he will return to Jesus. He trusts in Our Lord to forgive him, as indeed Our Lord will, when three times he entrusts to Peter the care of his sheep. Peter receives unworthily, but he never loses hope in Jesus' compassion and forgiveness.
Judas, though, has abandoned all hope of forgiveness. He thinks he can make the Kingdom of Heaven by force, and when he fails, he is blind to the reality of that Kingdom embodied in Christ right before his eyes. This hopeless fatalism, his fear that there is no redemption for him, is what makes Judas’ story so tragic, in the proper sense of the word. But more on him tomorrow.
For now, let us heed tonight's gospel, and look to ourselves. Are we a Bill Hayden or Kim Philby, a double-agent in Jesus' camp? Could it be that we, even tonight at mass, receive Our Lord unworthily, offering our lives with our lips but holding back when it counts?
If so, we have two options. Option one: we hold out like Judas, harbouring our grudges until finally, we abandon hope, lose trust in God and take the Devil's shilling. Or option two, Peter's way: we acknowledge that we have sinned and return to God in the knowledge that for all our betrayals, he forgives all those who truly repent and longs for our reconciliation. And that, dear brethren, is why he has given his priests a purple stole.
It's not too late.
Posted by Tom Plant