Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of Holy Week
March 22, 2016
Is 49:1-6, Ps 71, Jn 13:21-33.36-68
To listen to a recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- In the opening prayer of today’s Mass, we asked God the Father for the grace “so to celebrate the mysteries of the Lord’s Passion that we may merit to receive your pardon.” We can never strictly speaking merit the Lord’s mercy — because it’s always gratuitous — but we can merit, in a sense, to cooperate with it, to receive it well, to correspond to what God wishes to do in us through it. And today’s readings help us to know how to celebrate the mysteries of the Lord’s Passion in that way. Again today, we have in the first reading a look at what is happening from God’s prospective through the fulfillment of what he said through the Prophet Isaiah; and in the Gospel we have the historical perspective of what was happening and how the intended recipients were meriting or failing to merit God’s pardon. We see the strong contrast between glory and betrayal and also see the paradoxical connection between them both and the way from the latter to the former, namely the way of receiving and responding to God’s gift of pardon. Grasping this connection is essential for us to enter into the depth of mysteries we celebrate in Holy Week.
- In the first reading we encounter the second of four of the Suffering Servant Songs in Isaiah. We heard the first yesterday, will hear the third tomorrow, and on Good Friday will hear the last and most powerful of all. Today the Prophet begins by describing his own biography and foretells Jesus’ own: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name,” something that happened when the Archangel appeared to Mary. Describing Jesus’ hidden life in Nazareth and the way he would be a “two-edged sword penetrating even soul and spirit” (Heb 4:12), he continued: “He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me.” Then he turns to the tribulations he has suffered in his public ministry — the rejection of so many, the labelling of his words as diabolical, the hardened, rocky and thorny soil in response to what he was planting — and how God will bring good out of them. “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.” The purpose of all of them is to save Israel and save the world. “For now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him. … It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This lumen gentium is going to be for his glory and for God the Father’s glory. God pronounced earlier in the passage, “You are my servant … through whom I show my glory” and here through his service in mercifully gathering back not only the lost tribes but the entire human race that glory of God will be shared with his servant: “And I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord, and my God is now my strength!” That’s what’s happening from God’s perspective.
- In the Gospel today, Jesus picks up on that message of the glory of God and of his suffering servant. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him,” Jesus exclaims. “If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once.” The glory that Jesus is describing is the glory precisely of the epiphany of God’s merciful love shown by Jesus in all that he was willing to do to save Israel and redeem the world. In the previous chapter of St. John’s Gospel, after Jesus had said that he needed to go the path of the grain of wheat and die in order to bear fruit, he had prayed, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then St. John tells us that a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd heard it and thought it was thunder, Jesus interpreted it for all of them — including Judas and Peter and the other apostles — saying, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” St. John finishes by saying, “He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.” So his glory will be his exaltation and the triumph of his mercy. We see a glimpse of that glory in how Jesus responds to the double-betrayal that is described before and after Jesus’ words about his present (“now”) and imminent (“will glorify”) glorification in today’s Gospel.
- The first betrayal is by Judas. Jesus announces that one of the Twelve is about to betray him. Everyone was at a loss as to whom the traitor would be. In the other accounts, they were all saying, “Surely it is not I, Lord.” It shows not only how blind all of them were to their weakness — for they were all about to betray him — but just how masterful an actor Judas Iscariot was that he could have concealed his treachery from everyone except Jesus. But Jesus’ words were not just a prophecy, but they were a call to mercy, a chance for Judas to recognize that what he was about to do was already known and a chance to change course. When Peter asks John (who was reclining on Jesus’ right) to ask Jesus who it is, Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” Then he gave it to Judas. In this gesture there are two great signs of Jesus’ mercy toward Judas that those who don’t understand the culture of Jesus’ time will miss. The first is that to give someone food as Jesus gave to Judas was a sign of tremendous respect. It was an act of tender love. The fact that Jesus was able to give it to Judas was another sign. Meals like the Last Supper would take place in the form of a U with the principal host at the head of the curve. There were no tables per se, everyone would recline on his left arm leaving the right arm to eat. They would lie angled to the table so that the head of the one on one’s right would basically be in the chest of the one on his left. That’s how it’s said that St. John, who was on Jesus’ left, was leaning on his breast. The host would always place the guest of honor on his left. The fact that Jesus could give the morsel to Judas meant that Judas was seated as the guest of honor. Jesus was resting his head in Judas’ breast. But even that sign of honor didn’t suffice. When Judas received the morsel — we don’t know whether it was Jesus’ body or just a piece of bread — St. John tells us, “Satan entered into him.” Jesus could see it. His works of presenting another path to his freedom hadn’t gotten him to convert. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” He didn’t embarrass him. He didn’t expose him. If the other apostles knew what he was about to do, he likely would never have been able to leave the Upper Room. Jesus would give him another chance when he would call him “Friend” later in the Garden, but Judas betrayed him with a sign of love, blistering his cheek with a kiss of betrayal. The great sadness is that Judas would be dead before even Jesus breathed his last, that this was the last night of Judas’ life, that Satan was not only trying to manipulate Judas to betray Jesus to death but also to betray himself and commit suicide. What a tragedy! Unlike, however, the Good Thief who took advantage of the Lord’s mercy, Judas was choosing Satan in his heart rather than God. Nevertheless, when Judas went out into the “night” — he was already in darkness — Jesus began to speak of his glory, because God was going to bring that glory out of his betrayal, the light out of the darkness of betrayal.
- We also see another betrayal, that of Peter. After Jesus describes that his apostles can’t come where he is going now but will come later — he’s talking about death and resurrection — Peter protests, saying “I will lay down my life for you.” But Jesus tells him, much to the fisherman’s incredulity, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” As we hear in St. Luke’s account of the Passion in Jesus’ words to Peter about vigilance and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter’s spirit was willing but his flesh was weak. Peter’s humiliating betrayal of Jesus, however, would not only lead to the glory of Jesus’ mercy as Jesus would give Peter after the Resurrection a three-fold reconstituting commission out of love for him to feed and tend his sheep and lambs, but it would also lead to Peter’s glory, as he would follow Jesus as another would stretch out his arms and drag him in crucifixion to a place he didn’t want to go. The difference between Peter’s betrayal and Judas’ was that Judas’ was one of calculation, Peter’s one of weakness. And after their betrayals, Judas only had remorse; Peter had repentance. Judas had never grasped all of Jesus’ words and deeds about God’s mercy, his parables of the lost sheep, coin, and Son, his forgiving sinners like the woman caught in adultery. Peter had grasped this and that if the Lord were calling him to forgive 70 times 7 times, then the Lord, too, would be merciful even after a betrayal. This is a great lesson for us, if we learn from Peter and come back to the Lord to ask for forgiveness in the way Jesus himself established. That is the way we can enter into the Lord’s glory. That is the way we can merit to receive God’s pardon. That is the way to live Holy Week.
- As we now enter into the same Last Supper in which today’s Gospel scene occurred, we ask the Lord for the grace never to betray him through calculation and to strengthen us to minimize our betrayals out of weakness by the morsels of his own life that he will put into our mouths. We ask him to give us an ever greater trust in his mercy if we leave this morning Supper and betray him by weakness. We ask him through this Holy Communion to convince us, like he convinced his apostles, of the path of Christian glory, which is the path of self-sacrificial merciful love, so that we may be glorified with him in the eternal glory of the Father.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
listen, O distant peoples.
The LORD called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
Yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.
For now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
That Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
And I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
PS 71:1-2, 3-4A, 5AB-6AB, 15 AND 17
In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
For you are my hope, O Lord;
my trust, O God, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. I will sing of your salvation.
JN 13:21-33, 36-38
“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.
One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved,
was reclining at Jesus’ side.
So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant.
He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him,
“Master, who is it?”
“It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.”
So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas,
son of Simon the Iscariot.
After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.
So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.
Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him,
“Buy what we need for the feast,”
or to give something to the poor.
So Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself,
and he will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
You will look for me, and as I told the Jews,
‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.”
Jesus answered him,
“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,
though you will follow later.”
Peter said to him,
“Master, why can I not follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me?
Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow
before you deny me three times.”