04 April 2007

The temptation to skip Good Friday

Wednesday of Holy Week: Isa 50.4-9 and Matthew 26.14-25
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory


Only a friend can truly offer you up to your enemies. Only someone who knows you intimately can deliver you over to those who would harm you. The difference then between snitching and betrayal is friendship. Anyone can snitch and get you caught. Only a friend can betray you, offer you up for sacrifice.

Though we generally look at the forty days in the desert as the test of Jesus’ resolve to die on the cross, we can also understand his odd friendship with Judas as a source of on-going temptation for him as well. Judas is the face of those to whom the Father has sent the Son. Sinners. The weak, the wild and weary, those who would kill, cheat, betray, rob; anyone who stands in habitual disobedience to the Word: the prostitutes, the hoarding rich, the greedy tax collectors. Judas, a real person, of course, is also a temptation for Jesus to let the cup pass, to stall and find another way to get the job of universal salvation accomplished. Though Jesus came to save sinners, must he die for the likes of Judas—for those who stink of the idolatry of self worship and vicious backstabbing? Why not just die for the smaller sinners? The ones who don’t really mean it? The ones who slip up occasionally? But really now, why would anyone need to die for them? Such meager sins need no sacrifice. Do you see the temptation?

Jesus exposes his betrayal at the Passover meal. Why? Consider: what hasn’t gone right for him up ‘til now? He rides into Jerusalem as a beggar and is greeted as a king. The accolades and adulation are fierce. His ideological enemies dog him, but they repeatedly fail to stump him in several contests on the Law. They fail again and again to arrest him for blasphemy. All those who oppose him in their hearts and minds fail to find a better way of catching him. They are helpless before the Word. The crowd that gather to hear him preach grow larger and more eager for his touch. Strategically speaking, Jesus is winning this battle and looking very much like the Father-sent prophet he is reported to be! Do you see the temptation?

And then there is Judas. Greedy, obstinate, fawning, self-righteous, falsely pious, and two-faced: “Surely it is not I who will betray you, Rabbi?” Jesus answers Judas in exactly the same way he will answer Pilate later this week: “You have said so.” This must have hit Judas in the stomach like a fist! He knows! He knows I will give him over to his enemies. Of course, he knows. And he has known along, hasn’t he? Judas is a temptation, a vile little reminder to Jesus that his death will offer the vilest of the vile a chance at eternal life. A reminder that he dies on the cross for every greedy, obstinate, fawning, self-righteous, falsely pious, and two-faced friend out there; any and everyone who would stab a friend in the back and collect a fee for the deed. These people are the ones the Son of God must suffer for?! The reigning champ of Father-sent prophets must die so that useless scum might live? Do you see the temptation?

Indeed Judas is the devil as our tradition says. He tempted Jesus in the desert but failed to move him to sin. So he returns with Judas’ face to try again. Perhaps unwittingly, he shows Christ the truth of his sacrifice on the cross. He will die for Judas and those like Judas who suffer from all the maladies of rebellion against the Word. He will die to free the liar, the caged, the fanatical, the obsessive, the narcissist, the melancholic, and the manic. And he will free them into a divine passion, a Fatherly love that burns away every speck of dark longing the iron bite of sin’s chains and for the cool flow of oblivion. He will love us all into a spectacular judgment, a weighing of joy and hope against despair and with Christ we will tip the scale into White Hot Beauty.

But not yet. Not yet. Do you see the temptation? Will you, like Judas, betray Christ? Of course you will. And you will do so happily. Or else.


  1. Anonymous3:49 AM

    Kind of interesting meditation on Judas. i'm a bit upset to have the melancholic & manic thrown in with Judas, since i suffer from both, having bi-polar affective disorder..i raise the point on my blog if you have chance to look.

    Can you add my blog to your links & i would do the same? God bless

  2. Jackie,

    Almost as soon as I said that line out loud I knew it was a mistake! I'm not making a moral link btw those psychological ailments and Judas' betrayal but rather I am saying that all sorts of maladies (sins, sicknesses, dis-eases) are healed in the resurrection. But I certainly see where the ambiguity is in my prose! This is exactly why I post these homilies so readers like you can point these problems out to me! Thanks...and I will link to your site...as soon as one of my students who knows how to do that comes in my office!

    Fr. Philip