The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens, wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, "The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man must go as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so."
This is "Spy Wednesday," so called from the Lord's betrayal by Judas Iscarioth, one of his own inner circle. Poor Judas was doubtless talented, probably very astute, and had in his youth some spark of idealism; and yet when it came to the test he proved treacherous, unreliable, profoundly untrustworthy. The Gospels offer a few clues that may suggest what led the misguided Apostle towards that ultimate act of treachery: selling Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. We might even feel a twinge of pity for Judas, about whom Jesus spoke those chilling words, "It would have been better for that man not to have been born!" But rather than spend time trying to explain or analyse the level Judas' guilt, or trying to figure out his mixed motivations, it would be more fruitful to examine some ways in which we ourselves are untrustworthy and in need of the grace of repentance. The story of Judas is a sobering lesson for us all. "There but for the grace of God go I!" we may well say.
It is also a day to pray especially for all those who have tragically taken their own lives, trying to escape from the depths of despair; and to pray for grace, compassion and friendship for any poor soul who may be tempted to suicide. We could show our solidarity with the Samaritans who offer counselling to people in deep trouble, and even invest some of our time in being good listeners, where people can find help in time of trouble. On the example of Jesus, each of us could ask the Lord God to help us deepen our discipleship, and to grant us the gift of encouragement, "that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word."
The early church was very aware that Jesus was betrayed to his enemies by one of his closest associates. Even though this was a very uncomfortable truth for the early church, there was no attempt to gloss over the disturbing truth that, in the words of today's gospel, Jesus was betrayed by someone who dipped his hand into the dish with Jesus, someone who was an intimate. The gospel declares that when Jesus announced that one of those sharing table with him would betray him, everyone present was "greatly distressed." To be betrayed by someone you trust is very distressing for the one betrayed and for all those associated with him.
Some of us may have had the experience of our trust being betrayed. We confide in someone and they use that information against us. This week tells us that, in the case of Jesus, human betrayal did not have the last word; God had the last word by raising his Son from the dead. God brought good out of the evil of betrayal and the many other evils that Jesus endured. God can also bring good out of the negativity that we sometimes have to endure from others. These days invite us to trust that God can work in life-giving ways even in those dark experiences that are contrary to what God desires for us.