Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Self recognition

In today's portion of the Servant Songs, the calling of the one who God calls to be servant of his Word is declared to reach back before his birth. But there is more. The Servant's calling is not just to serve the children of Israel but all people everywhere. The prophecy of Simeon over the infant Jesus in the Temple acclaims him to be 'The light to lighten the Gentiles'. (Luke 2:32) Clearly Simeon was familiar with the oracles of Isaiah.

'I will make you the light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.' (Isaiah 42:6)

In many ways the story of Jesus' passion sheds light on human behaviour that is relevant far beyond its historical and cultural context. Everyone can find different aspects of themselves reflected in the participants of those events. Identifying ourselves with the traitor Judas is less than easy, uncomfortable in fact. When Jesus said "One of you will betray me.(John 13:21)  those present responded with bewilderment. "Lord is it I?" (Matt 26:22). Hearing the warning of Jesus about the imminent crisis, Peter was quick to assert that he would defend and protect Jesus, yet he flees, and then lies about his association with Jesus.

"Before the cock crows, you will have disowned me three times."  (John 13:33)

To betray is to hand someone over to their enemies. Peter doesn't do this, but his denials betray his weakness and fear, his inability to keep his word. Having warned his disciples, Jesus lets Judas go about his business. Although aware that Judas is up to no good, Jesus will give no more warnings, he simply lets everything happen.

Judas is responsible for the disciples' common purse. John regards him as a thief. He asks for money from the chief priests for leading them to arrest Jesus. Love of money is thought to be the motivation for his action by many ancient interpreters. But, in way love, of power is just as likely. Judas wants to engineer a confrontation with religious authorities that will pressurise Jesus into revealing himself and his true authority. Judas wants to set the agenda for others, wants everyone to interpret things his way, as he sought to when he  reproached Mary's generosity after her anointing of Jesus.

When Judas leaves the supper table to inform the chief priests, the others assume he is going away on some charitable errand. They do not question. Are they in awe of this capable and confident man? The relationship between Judas and the other disciples also merits consideration. Do they trust him? Do they put up with him without really liking him because Jesus does?

How to interpret the declaration Jesus makes "Now the Son of Man has been glorified." (John 13:31). 'Glory' is a word used to convey the true nature of divine splendour. Its Greek original can also be used to denote 'opinion', what we think of something or someone. In this statement it refers to that elusive phrase Jesus uses to speak of himself as a human being. It suggests he's saying to his disciples that in the story so far (particularly in the 'signs') they have seen what true humanity is. The revelation of the divine in him is yet to come. 

Despite Peter's protestations of loyalty, nobody can follow Jesus where he has to go. None of the disciples are aware of how things will turn out. Betrayal, denial, rejection, come as unexpectedly as his untimely and unjust death. 

At this time we take into our prayer the disciples' words: 'Lord, is it I', and try to remain as conscious of we can of our vulnerability to fall short of our own hopes and convictions in the face of unforeseen events that out us to the test, for the truth is, if we had been there at the time, our reactions might have been similar.

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