Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Will you really lay down your life for me?

Judas heard all Christ's sermons – Thought for the Day - Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22-23)

Gospel text (Jn 13,21-33.36-38):
Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified,
“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?”
Jesus answered,
“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.

When he had left, Jesus said,
“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.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?”
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.”

Today, we contemplate the person of Judas, the traitor apostle. And his heart, full of evil intentions he is seeking to dissimulate; hypocritically, he is also trying to cover up the greediness that rules and blinds him, despite the fact he is so close to him, who is the Light of the world. In spite of being surrounded by Light and exemplar unselfishness, for Judas «it was night» (Jn 13:30): thirty silver coins dazzled and gagged him. Dominated by greed, he betrays and sells Jesus, the most honored amongst honored men; but Judas experienced despair too, for money is not everything and it can definitely enslave us.

Then we also consider Peter with attention and devotion. Everything in him is good will, love, generosity, simplicity, nobility... He is Judas' counterpoint. It is true that three times Peter denied Jesus, but his intentions were not mean; he just did it out of cowardice and human feebleness. «He denied him for the third time, and when Jesus Christ looks at him, he immediately cried, and bitterly he cried» (Saint Ambrose). Peter's remorse and repentance was sincere as shown by his excruciating pain full of love. This is why, Jesus afterwards, reaffirmed him in the vocation and in the mission He had prepared for him

All Peter wants to do is follow Jesus everywhere he goes. He loves him and wants to be with him. But, as we continually see throughout the Gospels, Peter just doesn’t quite get it. He doesn’t get that Jesus has just sent Judas off to pay for his death. He doesn’t get that truly following Jesus means persecution. I think that is why Jesus tells Peter that he can’t come yet. It is not out of anger or pride; it is out of love. Jesus is saying to Peter, “You are not ready yet. Wait awhile. Soon, you will be ready to lead my Church.”

I really like St. Peter. I like him, not because he is perfect or pre-made to be the first leader of the Church, but because he is precisely the opposite of all those things. He was a poor fisherman. He was most certainty imperfect, continually missing the mark on what Jesus was trying to teach. I can almost see Jesus slapping his forehead thinking, “Really Peter? You still don’t get it? Let’s go over this one more time.” Just after this passage, Jesus is being tried, and Peter denies him, just as Jesus said he would. Yet, Jesus doesn’t back out of his choice for the leader of the Church. He sticks by Peter, in all of his imperfections.

To me, this means we don't have to be perfect to follow Christ. In turn, we shouldn’t expect others to be perfect, including the leaders in our Church. We are called to look at everyone in the world, including ourselves, and see past the imperfections, the moments when we just don’t get it, and see the Christ in them. That is what Jesus did. He saw past Peter’s blemishes and denials and saw a man who would take the Church from a small group of disciples to a worldwide phenomenon. He saw the beauty beneath Peter’s outer shell, and he sees beyond our shells too. He sees us for the beautiful children we are and he loves us. Don’t we owe ourselves the same love?

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