Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Holy Week - Tuesday

The Gospel for Mass in the Roman Lectionary today (John 13:21-33 & 36-38) focuses, as does tomorrow's Gospel from Matthew on the part played by Judas Iscariot in betraying Jesus to those who were seeking to kill him. Not infrequently Judas is portrayed differently from the other disciples, making him seem sinister, villainous, but there is no evidence to support this in the stories scripture tells. At the least, iconography makes him out to be left-handed and in the ancient world this could be enough to lead to someone being regarded with suspicion. 
"See, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table." (Luke 22:21) 

Judas is shown to occupy an important position at the table, reaching out with his left hand towards  the same dish as Jesus in Giampetrino's copy of Leonardo's original Last Supper, and knocking over the salt with his right, as he does. His face is impassive, whereas most of the others are gesturing with astonishment - "Lord, is it I?" John, on the right of Jesus is being asked by Peter "Ask, who it is he means." Nobody is named, but Jesus responds to John's enquiry by saying that it is the one to whom he gives a piece of bread that he has dipped in the supper dish.

John identifies the recipient as Judas, but it's hardly likely that he was the only disciple to be favoured this during a meal. Jesus however, then gives Judas leave to go and attend to other duties as treasurer of the common fund. Was there something understood between them? An unfinished argument about the way forward, leading to Judas taking an initiative nobody else has agreed to? 

There is another Jude or Judas among them, described as Judas (not Iscariot). The man himself is never mentioned without being referred to as Jesus' betrayer. John also speaks of Judas Iscariot as a thief because of his abuse of the common fund. He is the target of communal anger for what he does in bringing Jesus to the attention of the religious authorities. Yet, without his vain disastrous attempt to force Jesus to demonstrate his power and reveal his true nature, the circumstances in which God's infinite mercy and compassion could be revealed, would not have occurred. This paradox is beyond our comprehension, but as St Paul says:

"At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." (Romans 5:6)

On the face of it Judas acts on his own, over and against the group. His story is an illustration for all disciples in every generation that warns of the fatal risk attached to doing this. We are as Paul says:

"Members of one another." (Eph 4:25)

We would do well never to forget this.

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