31 March 2010

Spy Wednesday

The Gospel at Mass on the Wednesday of Holy Week tells of an event that yields the curious alternate name for this day: Spy Wednesday.

All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-12, Luke 22:3-6) give an account of the same event. On the day before the Lord Jesus celebrated His last supper in the upper room, Judas Iscariot went in secret to the chief priests to find out what they would give him if he handed Jesus over to them. They promised him thirty pieces of silver, and the deal was done.

What led Judas, one of the Twelve Apostles, to betray Jesus? We know that he was a thief and that he stole from the common purse which Jesus had entrusted to his care. Perhaps one of the others found him out and was prepared to expose him. 

Perhaps Judas expected Jesus to raise an army, throw off the yoke of Roman occupation, and rule a newly unified Israel from the Throne of David in Jerusalem. When it became clear that nothing like this would happen, perhaps Judas grew angry at having wasted three years of his life with this itinerant rabbi and decided to get even.

Perhaps he was jealous of not being in the inner circle of the Twelve, all of whom argued with each other over their importance and precedence. Peter, James, and John were singled out by Jesus for special instruction and responsibility; perhaps in a rage of envy Judas decided to show them who had power.

Though we do not know the motivation of Judas because Holy Scripture does not tell us, all of the above are plausible, if partial, explanations. But there is one thing further revealed about the matter in Scripture, and this we must always bear in mind: Luke and John both assert that Satan entered into Judas, and so his interior freedom would have been either deeply compromised or even destroyed. Luke (22:3) places the demonic oppression or possession on Spy Wednesday, while John (13:27) describes it happening at the Last Supper. In either case, both Evangelists attribute some part of Judas's betrayal to the direct action of the Enemy.

Judas Iscariot. Even 2,000 years after he betrayed the Lord Jesus, his very name is a curse. But whatever moved him to turn traitor, we must also acknowledge that Judas was not the only apostle who betrayed the Lord that night; they all did. Peter, who boldly exclaimed that he would go to prison and die rather than betray Jesus, found himself within hours of that boast lying to a scullery maid about even knowing Jesus, so afraid was he of sharing the same fate as his Master. Prince of the Apostles, indeed. And all of the apostles ran away from the garden in fear-- the first act of apostolic collegiality.

We know that as soon as Jesus was arrested, Judas regretted his betrayal and tried to return the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests. They wouldn't take the silver back because it was blood money -- tainted by the perfidy of the treasonous apostle. Then in desolation and despair Judas hanged himself and died alone.

Or did he die alone? Even as the good thief turned to the Lord Jesus for mercy at the moment of his death, is it possible that Judas Iscariot in the instant before the rope ended his life might have cried out to Jesus for mercy? Is it possible that even on the Cross the Lord might have heard and answered the cry of Judas?

I believe that we can and must dare to hope that on the Last Day we will find that even Judas Iscariot has been gathered into the Kingdom of God. After all, Spy Wednesday leads to the Friday we call Good, because on that day the Author of Life died for our sins to destroy death. As the temple veil was rent down the middle, and the earth shook, and the sky was darkened, and hell was harrowed, perhaps the Enemy who had entered into Judas was cast out and cast down by the Lamb once slain so that the first of His Twelve to die could be united at last to his Lord and Savior. It is devoutly to be hoped.