APRIL 7, 2004, WEDNESDAY OF HOLY WEEK , HOMILY: ISAIAH 50: 4-9; MT. 26;14-25.


“I GIVE YOU MY WORD, ONE OF YOU IS ABOUT TO BETRAY ME”. JESUS SAID TO HIS APOSTLES IN THE COURSE OF THE MEAL.  Betrayal has always seemed a particularly abhorent offense so that persons with a sense of honor feel a spontaneous loathing for any one who practices it. History depicts traitors as contemptible; their very name is execrated by the general public. To be called a Judas or a Benedict Arnold is to be branded as undeserving of respect or consideration. Nonetheless, human history witnesses to a long series of betrayals of various kinds: betrayal of one’s country, betrayal of a cause, of a friend, of a spouse through infidelity, betrayal of a trust, of a secret. The list is a long one and examples continue to occur that cause dismay to one who would respect human nature and honor his fellow men and women.


Our Lord, as we firmly believe on the basis of Scripture, took on himself our sins and suffered their consequences on our behalf. He did not exempt himself from the sharp mental and emotional anguish that the betrayal by a trusted disciple and companion causes a dedicated teacher. Judas betrayed an innocent and loving master; he did so after he had been warned off by the Lord, and knowing the consequences of his betrayal would be of the most serious kind. What he did not realize is that in betraying the Lord he himself would be the real victim and the only loser.


Already by the time the Gospels were written, Judas had become for the faithful as much a type as an historical person. He was remembered by his end. What we know of his character is how he was remembered after his heinous deed of betrayal and his final despair. Understandably nothing good is recalled about his person and character as the Evangelists tell the story of the final events of his life. However, there was an altogether different side to this man that had led him to choose to leave all and follow Jesus who made heavy demands of renunciation on his followers. Only after intense prayer, we are told, did the Lord decide whom to admit into his group of closest disciples and collaborators of the Master. Jesus must have seen some lovable and promising qualities in him to have admitted him to his intimate circle. He showed a particular recognition of his qualities and gave him a sign of confidence by putting him in charge of the purse and the distribution of alms.


We are not told what was the first misstep Judas took that set him on a way that led to his undoing. Probably no one knew; very likely he himself did not know. How small a choice can lead one to enter upon a way of thinking, feeling, and acting that increasingly alienate from another to whom we owe loyalty; how insignificant the decision that weakens our adherence to our best values! I recall a striking instance that illustrates this point. A gifted young graduate student who was an Asian, and was not a Christian, consulted me because she was unhappy in her private life. She was married but had left her husband and was having an affair with an older man, one of her teachers, who himself had been married five times. Obviously, she was on a path that could only lead to further misery. She told me that she began to feel alienated from her husband when he refused to take a walk with her on the first fine day of spring after a long, hard winter in a foreign city. Although she told him how much it meant to her, he remained unmoved by her pleas when she explained how much it meant to her. “And that is when I realized that he did not love me”, she added. That small act of selfish refusal put them both on the way of misery.


Loyalty and fidelity can be tested in unexpected ways at any time of our life; indeed, they are either strengthened or weakened every day according as we follow the inner light of conscience illumined by faith and love. No act, no thought is too insignificant to make its contribution to the purity of our commitment to the Lord and to one another. As we live in fidelity day we day we become more sensitive to the light of God’s loving presence within us and around us. At this holy season of grace, and as we partake of this Eucharist, may we be strengthened in our resolve to make the effort needed to prove faithful to the call of our Savior to follow him through the sufferings of the c ross to the glory of the resurrection.U


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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