Homily. Holy Wednesday ’11. Naga Metropolitan Cathedral.
In these days immediately before the great celebration of the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord, through which we are redeemed, the liturgy focuses on the betrayal of Jesus by one of his Twelve. Last Monday, something of the hypocritical character of the betrayer, Judas, appears in his loud complaint against Mary of Magdala’s use of precious oil for the Master. He said it could have been sold for a great deal of money, and the money given to the poor. Of course, Judas was not truly interested in the poor; he was interested in himself, and his complaint was a crude manifestation of his perverse self-righteousness. In the end, the oil needed to be used for the Master, not only as a sign of lavish affection by Mary of Magdala, but more so as a sign of messianic anointing. It was the anointing that proclaimed the messianic character of his impending suffering and death.
Yesterday, we heard the Master, talking with his Twelve apostles, saying, “One of you will betray me.” It is hard to fathom the pain with which the Lord uttered these words. Precious to us in life are our friends. For Jesus, the closest to him were his twelve apostles, his chosen companions, the people with whom he shared his mission, his thoughts, his dreams, his passion, his journeys, his meals, his moments of triumph and dejection with. What he announces now is filled with intense emotion, “One of you will betray me,” certainly because of the fullness of love Jesus had for him. “One of you will betray me” – one of you, for one dark, demonic interlude, will be so wrapped in on his warped personal designs, that he will forget what all these years I have been communicating to him: that he is special, that he has an important role to play in my Kingdom, that he is appreciated and loved, and think that in betraying me he can find a world of meaning and happiness on his own. In the end, that is what Judas did. He ceased to believe in Jesus; he began to believe more in himself. Betrayal begins there where one believes more in one’s self than in Jesus. And it manifests itself with a kiss.
The Gospel for today is the narrative of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus according to Matthew. The language is very plain, very straightforward, highlighting the nakedness of the betrayal. Judas goes from the table at which he was eating the Last Supper with Jesus, and at which Jesus, in anticipation of his Sacrifice and Death, was giving the disciples his last will and testament. Judas goes to the chief priests, the enemies of Jesus, and asks: “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” – “What are you willing to pay me, if I betray this man to you?” “What are you willing to give me, if in pointing out this man to you, I deliver into your hateful hands this Man of God, his message, his friendship, his love, and allow you to destroy him in what ever way you will…?” The Gospel says they paid him thirty pieces of silver. There was no negotiating, no haggling, no demurring from the amount that may have been too low. Thirty pieces of silver would be the equivalent today of 113 days of labor in Bicol, the equivalent approximately of PHP 30,000. For this amount, you cannot even a second-hand car, or a modern coffee machine, or even a semester of good, private education. For that amount, Judas betrayed his redeemer, his teacher, his friend.
I suppose the recollection of this story must force us all to reflect on what it is that is truly precious in our lives, or truly valuable. It may force us to reflect on who it is that commands our loyalty and respect and love. That is, I am afraid, hardly to be taken for granted anymore. With whom do I really stand? For whom do I vote? For which community and what values to I sake my energies, my convictions, my passion, my life? With the plurality of values that come with a global intermeshing of cultures, philosophies and value systems, it is often no longer clear to us what or who is so valuable in my life that I am not willing to let it go for any sum of money, or I am not willing to let him or her go for any number of silver pieces. There is a mesmerizing quality to silver pieces, is there not: they are like silver dollars, or silver Yen, or silver Pounds or silver Euros. With enough of them gathered together at one’s disposal one thinks that one masters the world, can manipulate nature to bend to my will, can force others to bend to my values, can bring together the gamut of goods and services that ultimately solve all my problems and bring me power, pleasure, recognition, honor. That is why in the service of these pieces of silver it is so easy to betray the goods or persons in my life that all of a sudden no longer seem valuable, or at least, no longer seem practically compelling, so that if the price is right I am willing to give up my birthright, or turn my back on my colleagues or friends, or betray my God. As Judas did.
The message of the Gospel, so urgent in our confusing world: betrayal is real, because in this world there are some persons who are genuine, some relatives who are true, some friends who are loyal, and there is one God who exists – and whether we like it or not – is turned to us in love, and remains loyal to us in his love. We can turn away from this God. We can act against him. We can betray him. We can fall. And sometimes, God knows, we do! We can prefer ideologies to persons, and deny ourselves and others love because we like to live in and draw meaning from conceptual castles that fly in the face of reality. But the good news for today is that despite our Judas-like betrayals, all does not necessarily end in the furious whip of a scourger afraid of truth, or in a suicide of despair because one has found truth. All can end in a loving Lord, crucified on the Cross, who takes our sins and our betrayals – and ourselves to himself – and in his suffering and dying, works out hope in repentence, recovery and resurrection.
Today, let us face our betrayals in our lives. But today, let us face the Face of the Savior on the Cross for deliverance.