By Clint Wilson
“While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’”
Let’s not beat around the bush. Like Judas, we have all betrayed Jesus. And the Church has no room for entertaining alternative narratives of this woeful disciple, such as those cooked up by the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, in which he ultimately plays the hero. The canonical Gospels do not mince words about the role of Judas in the plot to put Jesus on the cross. Why do so many long to flip this narrative? Christ alone is the hero — something we will once again encounter in the glorious liturgies of this Holy Week.
But we cannot have the wine without the wine press, which brings us back to our opening point: all of us are Judas. Judas is a Lenten mirror in whom we recognize our sin and our betrayal of Jesus, big or small. It is only when we learn to see ourselves in Judas that we are prepared to see ourselves in Jesus. Judas takes power into his own hands, whereas Jesus empties his hands to be nailed to the cross. Judas grasps after the ungodly mammon; Jesus pours himself out like casino cash. Yet Judas does not have the eyes or the faith to see Jesus’ mission and values. Judas is content with a sack of coins, even as the king of “the cattle on a thousand hills” is carted off to the slaughterhouse.
The invitation of Holy Week is to pivot from the way of Judas to the way of Jesus. To be clear, this pivot is not made through moral perfection, or pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, but by recognizing our duplicity in serving Jesus even as we serve sin, and availing ourselves to his grace freely offered in his body and blood. Even Peter, the great rock, does not come away from Holy Week without the chisel of the cross carving out his heart of stone — “And he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).
If the Gospel of Luke begins with Mary’s Yes to Jesus, then it begins to end with the No of Pilate, at whose feet he lands. Our Lord does not despise feet, as we will recall on Maundy Thursday. However, these feet providentially kick him to the curb, where his heavy cross is waiting to be carried through the streets all the way to Calvary. Despite having assistance from his forced friend Simon of Cyrene, Jesus is the only one who can ultimately finish the journey — he alone is hero, and he must be the one to climb up the tree. Does he remember in this moment his friend Zacchaeus, who likewise stepped out on a limb and was surprisingly embraced as a table host for God? Either way, Jesus now spreads his own table on the wood of the cross and in the midst of criminals, serving up bread and wine until those who love or hate him have had their fill.
For those who observe “this spectacle,” what else can be done except to depart “beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48). They know they are not the hero, but do they know they have seen the one who is? Like all eucharistic feasts, whatever is left over of the body broken and the spilled blood is carefully and reverently retrieved, in this case by Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus’ body is placed into the aumbry of the tomb, or should we say he is reserved? For he is taken out again for the life of the world, and is made known again to his disciples in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:35). Indeed, this feast of death and life has only one hero, and this feast is meant to be repeated the world over:
Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (24:47-48)
We are witnesses of these things and will be again this week — we have received this good news and rejoice that God, having stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross, has brought us too into his saving embrace. Having seen ourselves in Judas, we are now ready to see ourselves in Jesus, for “You are what you eat.” After all, the reason we are nourished by the body of Christ, and nursed with the blood of Christ is so that we can be sent out “to do the work [he] has given us to do,” to be broken for the brokenness of the world, and to be poured out for the sake of others. Thanks be to God that through the gracious events of Holy Week, we have been given a new story, a new song.