Where Is Jesus Between His Death and Resurrection?

Where is Christ after He dies on Friday afternoon and before He rises on Easter Sunday? Both Scripture and Tradition answer this question. Consider the following excerpt from a second century sermon as well as this meditation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday (ca. 2nd century A.D.):

Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. … He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him—He who is both their God and the son of Eve. … “I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son. … I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

Nothing could be more beautiful than that line addressed to Adam and Eve: “I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son.”

St Ephrem the Deacon also attests to this descent among the dead and describes it rather colorfully:

Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strongroom and scattered all its treasure. (Sermo de Domino nostro, 3-4. 9: Opera edit. Lamy, 1, 152-158. 166-168)

Scripture also testifies to Christ’s descent to the dead and what He did: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison. … For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does (1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:6).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Christ’s descent to the dead (excerpts from CCC # 632-635):

[The] first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell [is] that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead.

But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there [cf. 1 Pet 3:18-19]. Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell”—Sheol in Hebrew, or Hades in Greek—because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God [cf. Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6; 88:11-13].

Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer [cf. Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Luke 16:22-26]. “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior … whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell” [Roman Catechism I, 6, 3].

Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.

[So] the gospel was preached even to the dead. The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” [1 Peter 4:6]. Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying, destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” [Heb 2:14-15; cf. Acts 3:15].

Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” [Rev 1:18; Phil 2:10].

Here is a recording of a sermon I preached on this topic: Where is Jesus Now.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Where Is Jesus Between His Death and Resurrection?

Passiontide Chronology: Good Friday

Jesus was arrested late Thursday evening. The Scriptures recount,

They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together (Mark 14:53).

According to Mark’s chronology there was a sham of a trial, based on false evidence and distortions of Jesus’ teachings.

Now the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were seeking testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but they did not find any. For many bore false witness against Jesus, but their testimony was inconsistent. Then some men stood up and testified falsely against Him: “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple, and in three days I will build another that is made without hands.’” But even their testimony was inconsistent.

So the high priest stood up before them and questioned Jesus, “Have You no answer? What is it these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus remained silent and made no reply. Again the high priest questioned Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

At this, the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “Why do we need any more witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What is your verdict?” And they all condemned Him as deserving of death. Then some of them began to spit on Him. They blindfolded Him, struck Him with their fists, and said to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in His face (Mark 14:53-65).

According to tradition, Jesus spent the rest of the night in the dungeon under the House of Caiaphas. It had doubled as a kind of cistern for holding rainwater.

The events of this early Friday morning are tightly packed. In the space of three or four hours, Jesus is sent to Pilate, then to Herod, then back to Pilate, questioned, condemned to die, and led out to be crucified by 9:00 AM.

The events begin around 6:00 AM:

Early in the morning, the chief priests, elders, scribes, and the whole Sanhedrin devised a plan. They bound Jesus, led Him away, and handed Him over to Pilate (Mark 15:1).

Pilate is less than enthusiastic to be saddled with this interrogation, but fearing a riot if he does not, he enters into the fray. Pilate’s behavior is a portrait in vacillation. According to Luke, he first seeks to transfer the case to Herod, who is nearby in Jerusalem (See Luke 23:6-12). However, Jesus says not a word to Herod. So after making sport of Jesus, Herod sends Him right back to Pilate. In another attempt to placate the crowd and evade making a decision, Pilate presents to them what amounts to a fake Messiah, aptly named “Barabbas” (which means “son of the father”). Can Barabbas save the day? He cannot, for he is not the true “Son of the Father.” Only Jesus can deliver Pilate—or any of us, for that matter.

I will not be treating the whole trial before Pilate in today’s post. (I’ve written about it in more detail here: The Trial Before Pilate.) In the end, though Pilate concludes that Jesus is innocent of the charges, he hands Him over to be crucified. In so doing, he is likely trying to save his own career. He will not take a stand for Jesus. Rather, he sits upon the judgment seat, violates his own conscience, and condemns Jesus to death. It is about the third hour (9:00 AM).

There is some debate about the specific time of day in the various biblical accounts. Mark 15:25 says that Jesus is crucified at the third hour (9:00 AM). In John 19:14 the crucifixion is set at the sixth hour (Noon). Both Matthew 27:45 and Luke 23:44 hint at a time closer to noon in their reference to a darkness coming over the land from noon until 3:00 PM.

In considering these “issues” of the exact time of day, we ought to remember that the people of Jesus’ era did not have clocks and watches. They did not speak or think of time in the precise ways that we modern Westerners do. Time was spoken of in general ways; the mention of the third hour, or the sixth hour, or the ninth hour could include a broader swath of time relatively near that declared hour. It is a little bit like our terms “mid-morning” or “mid-afternoon,” which can refer to a period of several hours. Mark does not necessarily mean precisely at 9:00 AM nor does John mean precisely at noon.

There is a lot of overlap in references to the third hour, the sixth hour, and the ninth hour, softening the possible conflict between the accounts. The need to nail down the exact times of day of the various events says more about our modern obsession with time than it does about accounts that are close, even if not precise, descriptions of the events.

Comparing all the texts leads to a general time frame. Thus, it would seem that Jesus undergoes trials before Pilate and Herod in the early morning (somewhere between 6:00 and 9:00 AM). He is sentenced by Pilate to crucifixion somewhere in mid-morning. He is mocked and led out to be crucified in the late morning. Near noon, He is stripped of His outer garments and hung on the cross. From about noon through the early afternoon a darkness comes over the land and Jesus hangs on the cross. He dies in the midafternoon, at around 3:00 PM.

What of this darkness of some three hours? In Luke 23:44, we read, It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (i.e., from noon until 3:00 PM).

Although this seems to describe a solar eclipse, it isn’t appropriate to insist that it was an eclipse (at least as we define the term today). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak to the darkness of that day using the Greek term σκότος (skotos), meaning simply “darkness.” Only Luke went on to state the reason for the darkness: the sun was darkened (Luke 23:45). He even used the Greek word ἐκλιπόντος (eklipontos), from which the word “eclipse” was derived. In Greek, however, the word eklipontos simply means “darkened,” whereas our word “eclipse” refers to a darkening as a result of the moon blocking the light of the sun. However, that is not necessarily (or even likely) what Luke meant here.

As a general rule, one should avoid applying a scientific explanation to a text when that may not have been the author’s intention. That there was darkness over the land from about noon until three is certainly attested to in the sacred texts, but the cause of that darkness is not definitively stated to be an eclipse, at least not as we use the term today. Perhaps God made use of other natural causes, such as very heavy clouds, to cause the light of the sun to dim. It is also possible that the darkness was of purely supernatural origin and was experienced only by some of those present.

Trying to explain the darkness in terms of the laws of science risks doing a disservice to the text by missing its deeper meaning: that the darkness of sin had reached its zenith. Whatever the physical mechanism of the darkness, its deepest cause was sin and evil.

Jesus said elsewhere, “This is the judgment: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19). Referring to His passion, He also said, “Night is coming, when no one can work” (Jn 9:4). When Judas left the Last Supper to betray Jesus, John observed simply and profoundly, And it was night (Jn 13:30). Yes, a deep darkness had come upon the world.

It is simply not possible here to fully comment on all the details of the crucifixion. While they are historical incidents, they are also of deep spiritual significance. I leave the consideration of most of those details to other posts and to your reflection. Jesus speaks seven times while on the cross: He asks the Father to forgive us. He bestows mercy on the repentant thief. He gives us His mother and asks us to take her into the home of our hearts. He expresses his feelings of abandonment. He voices his thirst. He announces the completion of His mission. He commends His spirit to the Father and gives up His spirit.

The earth shakes. While earthquakes were common in the region, interpreting the quake merely in scientific terms misses its theological significance. Christ has rent the earth and descended to Sheol, there to preach to the dead. The veil in the Temple has been torn from top to bottom, giving us access to the Father. He has rent our hearts and laid bare our thoughts. This also prefigures the Last Judgment:

Death is struck, and nature quaking,
all creation is awaking,
to its judge and answer making
(from the Dies Irae).

It is three o’clock in the afternoon; a great silence is upon the earth. The Word of God has died in the flesh. He has gone among the dead to awaken them.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Passiontide Chronology: Good Friday

Passiontide Chronology: Holy Thursday

According to the Synoptic Gospels, sundown of Holy Thursday ushered in the Passover. Later on this evening, the Lord will celebrate the Passover meal with His disciples. We ought to be mindful that the unleavened bread Jesus will take in His hands is called “the bread of affliction.” Scripture says, You shall eat [the Passover] with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt (Dt 16:3).

Indeed, this is an evening of affliction for Jesus. Much transpires at the Last Supper that is emblematic of our human foibles and sinful tendencies, but thanks be to God, He takes this “bread of affliction” we dish out to Him and lifts it to the glory of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Before being too critical of the Twelve, remember that we can be like them in many ways. Keep that in mind as you read through the commentary below; A large part of what I’ve written about the apostles applies to us as well. Indeed, they are we and we are they; and the Lord loved all of us to the end.

So on Holy Thursday let’s examine the sequence of events. It illustrates pretty well why the Lord had to die for us. We will see how earnest the Lord is about this Last Supper, how He enters it with an intense love for His disciples and a desire that they heed what He is trying to teach them. We shall also see, however, that they show forth a disastrous inattentiveness and a terrible lack of concern for the Lord.

COMING CLOUDS Jesus knows that His hour has come; this will be His last meal. Judas has already conspired and been paid to hand Him over. Scripture says, Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come. He always loved those who were his own, and now he would show them the depths of his love. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over (John 13:1). Thus, in the gathering storm Jesus plans His last meal, which will also be the first Holy Mass. He sent two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us” (Mark 14:13-15).

CARING CONCERN This last supper is obviously important to Jesus. Luke records these heartfelt words: And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). Yes, this will be a very special moment for Jesus.

COSTLY COMMUNION – Jesus, reclining at table, will now celebrate the Holy Eucharist for the first time—but it is to be a costly communion. He has already lost many disciples because of what He taught on the Eucharist (cf John 6:50ff). After the consecration at this Last Supper/first Mass, Jesus looks into the cup at His own blood, soon to be shed, and distributes His own body, soon to be handed over. This is no mere ritual for Him. Every priest before Jesus has offered a sacrifice distinct from himself (usually an animal, sometimes a libation), but Jesus the great High Priest will offer Himself.

COLLABORATIVE CONDESCENSION – During the meal Jesus rises and then stoops to wash the disciples’ feet. He instructs them to see in this action a model for those who would collaborate with Him in any future ministry. John records it this way: He rose from the supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded (John 13:5).

Jesus then teaches the disciples: Do you know what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:12-15). Just moments from now, we will see them demonstrate a complete disregard for what Jesus has just tried to teach them.

CALLOUS CRIME Back at table after having taught them that they must wash one another’s feet, Jesus suddenly becomes troubled in spirit and says, I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me (John 13:21). This causes a commotion among the apostles, who begin to ask, “Who can it be?” As the anxiety builds, Simon Peter motions to John and says, “Ask Him which one He means.” Leaning back against Jesus, John asks Him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus responds, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly” Jesus told him (John 13:24-30).

CONFOUNDING COMPETITION As Judas takes the morsel of bread and heads out into the night, no one even tries to stop him! Despite the fact that Jesus has clearly identified His betrayer, no one rises to block the door or even utters a word of protest. Why not? Luke supplies the answer: A dispute arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest (Luke 22:24). They should be concerned about Jesus’ welfare but instead they argue about which of them is the greatest.

How confounding! How awful! Yet is that not our history? Too often we are more concerned with our own welfare or status than with any suffering in the Body of Christ. So much that is critical remains unattended to because of this. Jesus has just finished teaching the apostles to wash one another’s feet, and the next thing you know, they’re arguing as to who among them is the greatest. Jesus patiently reminds them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:25-27). Meanwhile, due to their egotistical response, Judas has escaped into the night.

CAUSTIC CONTENTIOUSNESS Jesus continues to teach at the Last Supper. He surely wants to impress upon them His final instruction. How He must long for them to listen carefully and to internalize what He is teaching! Instead, all He gets are arguments. Both Thomas and Phillip rebuke Him. John records this outrage:

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” But Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him (Jn 14:1-8).

Thomas rebukes the Lord by saying, in effect, “We have no idea where you’re going; when will you show us the way?” Jesus answers, but Philip will have none of this promise to see the Father and boldly says, “Lord, show us the Father, and then we shall be satisfied.” Jesus, likely saddened by this, says to him, Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9) Jesus’ own apostles are being argumentative and contentious. They are caustic and seem to rebuke Him.

COMICAL CREDIBILITY GAP Undeterred, Jesus embarks on a lengthy discourse (recorded by John) that has come to be called the priestly prayer of Jesus. At the end of it, the apostles—perhaps ironically, perhaps with sincerity—remark, Now at last you are speaking plainly, not in any figure. Now we know that you know all things, and need none to question you; by this we believe that you came from God (John 16:29-30). However, Jesus knows that their praise is hollow and will not withstand the test.

There is a quite a lack of credibility in what the apostles say; it is almost comical. Jesus replies to them, Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone (John 16:31-32). Peter protests, saying, Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away (Matthew 26:33). Here is another almost comic lack of credibility: [Jesus says to Peter,] Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times. [Still insistent, Peter replies,] “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples (Matthew 26:34-35). Well, you know the story, and you know that only John made it to the cross.

CLUELESS CATNAP They finally reach the garden and the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus says to Peter, James, and John: My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me (Mat 26:38). They seem oblivious to His suffering, though, and doze off. Attempts to arouse them are unsuccessful; they sleep on.

Here we are at the pivotal moment of all human history and the first clergy of the Church are sound asleep. (Things have not changed, my friends.) Indeed, many are in a state of moral, spiritual, and emotional sleep as Christ still suffers throughout the world and is conspired against. Jesus says,

Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand” (Mat 26:45-46).

COMPASSIONATE CONSTANCY Jesus went on and died for the likes of them and all of us. I wonder if He had this Last Supper in mind when He said to the Father, Forgive them, they know not what they do. It is almost as if He is saying, “They have absolutely no idea what they are doing or thinking, so have mercy on them, Father.”

What a grim picture the Last Supper paints of us! It’s a disaster, really, but the glory of the story and the saving grace is this: The Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross regardless. Seeing this terrible portrait, can we really doubt the Lord’s love for us?

May your Holy Thursday be blessed. Never forget what Jesus endured!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Passiontide Chronology: Holy Thursday

Passiontide Chronology: Wednesday of Holy Week

Two momentous days have passed: On Monday there was the cleansing of the Temple and the laments over Jerusalem’s lack of faith; Tuesday featured exhaustive teachings by Jesus and interrogations by His opponents.

Today, Wednesday, it would seem that Jesus stays in Bethany. According to Matthew’s Gospel, the day begins with an ominous warning:

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matthew 26:1-2).

The scene then shifts across the Kidron valley, where we “overhear” this conversation:

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:3-5).

It is interesting that they say, “not during the festival,” because according to the Synoptic Gospels that is exactly when it ended up happening. This serves as a reminder that things unfold according to the Lord’s authority. Nothing is out of His control. No one takes the Jesus’ life; He lays it down freely. Even if one considers the Johannine tradition, which uses a different Jewish calendar to date the Passover (one day later), this all takes place right in the thick of the Passover. Why? Because the Lord is fulfilling Passover. The priests and elders can plan all they want, but God is in control.

The Lord Jesus and the Twelve likely spent a quiet sort of day and it is now later in the afternoon. Matthew’s Gospel places Jesus in Bethany, at the home of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6-7). According to Luke (7:36), Simon was a Pharisee. His leprosy was in remission and he had been readmitted to the community. Could he have been one of the lepers Jesus cured? We do not know. The story here is complex; there are significant differences among the various Gospel accounts. Matthew records it as follows:

A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matthew 26:7-13).

The act of anointing Jesus may have happened more than once; in the four accounts of it there are differences in both the details and the timeframes.

Luke presents this story (or a similar one) much earlier in his Gospel (Chapter 7). In his account it is Jesus’ feet not His head that are anointed. Further, Luke portrays Simon in a bad light.

Mark and Matthew place the incident on Wednesday of Holy Week, but report that it is those at the dinner (likely the apostles) who take offense at the anointing.

John’s Gospel places this event six days before Passover, but at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. In John’s account it is Mary who anoints the Lord (His feet, not His head) and Judas alone who takes offense.

For our purposes on this Wednesday of Holy Week, it is enough to note that Jesus sets the meaning of this woman’s action as anointing His body for burial. Jesus is clearly moved by her act of devotion and insight.

Jesus does not slight the poor in His response, but He teaches that the worship of God and obedience to His truth are higher goods than even the care of the poor. Serving the poor is not to be set in opposition to serving God. They are related, but God always comes first. For example, one cannot skip sacred worship on Sunday simply to serve the poor (except in a grave and urgent situation); serving the poor is not a substitute for worship. The worship of God comes first and is meant to fuel our charitable and just works. Further, set in the light of the looming passion, the dying One takes precedence over the poor ones.

One of the Twelve, Judas, has become increasingly disaffected. He has not been featured prominently among the Twelve; mention of him in the Gospels is minimal. Now he emerges, as if from the shadows, to betray Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all seem to place Judas’ plans to betray Jesus as set into motion at some point on this day. The Gospel of Matthew recounts,

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over (Matt 26:14-16).

Why did he do it? There were storm clouds gathering for Judas, by which he may have opened the door to Satan. Scripture reveals that he was a thief, stealing from the common money bag (Jn 12:6). Jesus also hints that Judas was grieved by the Bread of Life discourse, which led many to abandon Jesus when He insisted that they must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Jesus said, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot … (Jn 6:70-71).

We can only guess at Judas’ motivations. The most likely explanation is that he was disillusion when Jesus did not measure up to the common Jewish conception of the Messiah as a revolutionary warrior who would overthrow Roman power and reestablish the Kingdom of David. Judas may have been a member of the Zealot Party or at least influenced by them in this regard. Zealots are seldom interested in hearing of their own need for personal healing and repentance, let alone the call to love their enemies. This is obviously only speculative; Judas’ motivations remain to a large degree shrouded in the mystery of iniquity.

Yes, Judas betrayed Jesus for money—a significant amount—but compared to his salvation and his soul, it was but “a mess of pottage for his birthright” (see Gen 25:34). What will it profit a man that he should gain the whole world and lose his soul? (Mk 8:36)

The widespread belief that Judas might be in Heaven may be just a tad optimistic. The Church does not declare that any particular person is in Hell, however Jesus said the following about Judas: The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born. (Matt 26:24). It is hard to imagine Jesus saying this of any human person who ultimately makes it to Heaven.

The more likely biblical judgment on Judas is that he died in sin, despairing of God’s mercy on His terms. One is free to hope for a different outcome for Judas, but while the story of Judas and his possible repentance does generate some sympathy in many people today, the judgment belongs to God.

It is the saddest story never told: The repentance of Judas and his restoration by Jesus. Think of all the churches that were never built: “The Church of St. Judas, Penitent.” Think of the feast day never celebrated: “The Repentance of Judas.”

Judas goes his way, freely. God did not force him to play this role. He only knew what Judas would do beforehand and based His plans on Judas’ free choice.

Thus ends this Wednesday of Holy Week. It was a calmer day, a day spent among friends, yet a day on which Satan entered one man, who set a betrayal in motion. The storm clouds gather.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Passiontide Chronology: Wednesday of Holy Week

Passiontide Chronology: Tuesday of Holy Week

It is Tuesday of Holy Week. Jesus likely arises early, as did all the ancients. Days both ended and started early, at dusk and dawn, prior to the advent of electric lighting. They leave Bethany and head back to Jerusalem. Perhaps a few converts can be made before the transcendent events of the Passion begin.

It is only a couple of miles, mostly downhill, to Jerusalem. As they come down the steep hill they see the fig tree Jesus had cursed the day before.

As they were walking back in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from its roots. Peter remembered it and said, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree You cursed has withered.” (Mk 11:20-21).

Jesus had cursed the fig tree, a metaphor for the ancient chosen people, for lack of faith, justice, and charity, the expected fruits in its branches. (This was discussed in more detail in yesterday’s post.) The fig tree reminds us of the day of judgment. “Lip service” faith is easy, but Jesus is looking for real fruit in the branches.

The apostolic band walks on further with Jesus, and they eventually arrive at the Temple, where they are immediately confronted by the Temple leaders:

At their return to Jerusalem, Jesus was walking in the temple courts, and the chief priests, scribes, and elders came up to Him. “By what authority are You doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave You the authority to do them?” “I will ask you one question,” Jesus replied, “and if you answer Me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me!” They deliberated among themselves what they should answer: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will ask, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’…” they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John truly was a prophet. So they answered Him, “We do not know. And Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Mk 11:27-33).

Jesus questions their question with a question. He seems to engage in the Socratic method, making them examine their premises. In this dialogue the leaders are confronted with their own insincerity. They are asked to consider that their own “authority” is based not on truth, but on power and its trappings. They are asked to consider that they have “too much to lose” because they root their authority in the power and accolades of the people. They are not true leaders, for they do not seek the truth but rather only what confirms their power.

Do not scorn or laugh at them—many of us are in the same condition.

Jesus turns to them and others in the Temple area, teaching them in numerous parables (Mk 12:1). In these parables He lays bare their hearts and reminds them that although they are leaders they are refusing God’s offer of salvation and His invitation to the true feast to which their rituals point.

Jesus begins,

But what do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went. Then the man went to the second son and told him the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he said. But he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in a righteous way and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him (Mat 21:28-32).

Lip service is not obedience. Their refusal to come to faith is disobedience to God. He desires obedience more than ritual observances and sacrifices (see Psalm 40:6).

Jesus warns them that their plots to kill Him will end badly:

A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a wine vat, and built a watchtower. Then he rented it out to some tenants and went away on a journey. At harvest time, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect his share of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized the servant, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent them another servant, and they struck him over the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and this one they killed. He sent many others; some they beat and others they killed. Finally, having one beloved son, he sent him to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized the son, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you never read this Scripture: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:1-11)

At this, the leaders sought to arrest Jesus, for they knew that He had spoken this parable against them. Fearing the crowd, though, they left Him and went away (Mk 12:1-12). They will return shortly with other interrogators.

Matthew records that Jesus then told the following parable, likely to others in the Temple area. In it, He warns them of the urgency of the dramatic decision that is upon them. Do they want salvation in the way God offers? Do they desire the Kingdom of God and its values or do they prefer the present but passing desires of the world? Are they willing to be clothed in the garments of righteousness that God himself provides or do they prefer to wear the fashions of the world?

Once again, Jesus spoke to them in parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to call those he had invited to the banquet, but they refused to come. Again, he sent other servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner. My oxen and fatlings have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went away, one to his field, and another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops to destroy those murderers and burn their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the crossroads and invite to the banquet as many as you can find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered everyone they could find, both evil and good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he spotted a man who was not dressed in wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ But the man was speechless. Then the king told the servants, ‘Tie him hand and foot and throw him outside into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:1-14).

Now come various interlocutors. Note that the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees agreed on nothing but that Jesus had to go. They “teamed up” against the Lord! This indicates the depth of their fear: even enemies will be embraced to rid the city of this upstart preacher who so threatens their shared power.

Later, they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to catch Jesus in His words. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are honest and are swayed by no one. Indeed, You are impartial and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Now then, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or not?” But Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to inspect.” So, they brought it, and He asked them, “Whose likeness is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they answered. Then Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And they marveled at Him (Mk 12:13-17).

This is an attempt to draw Jesus into a cheap political debate and thereby cause division among His admiring crowd. Their concern about taxes is insincere because even those who dispute paying taxes to Caesar walk about with Caesar’s money. Jesus will not be called off message; He says to them, [Give] to God what is God’s.” In this case what they are to give to God is faith in the one whom He has sent, Jesus.

The next opponents of Jesus are the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection of the dead and seek to ridicule belief in Heaven through a complex and unlikely scenario:

Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came and questioned Him: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man should marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died, leaving no children. Then the second one married the widow, but he also died and left no children. And the third did likewise. In this way, none of the seven left any children. And last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For all seven were married to her.” Jesus said to them, “Aren’t you mistaken because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like the angels in heaven. And regarding the dead rising, have you not read about the burning bush in the book of Moses, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken (Mk 12:18-27).

Yes, they are badly mistaken; they seek to understand heavenly realities using earthly notions. Because the Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament, Jesus uses a passage from Exodus as well as their own logic against them. The Sadducees denied the resurrection by saying that God is a God of the living, not the dead. If that be so, though, why does the Lord call himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom have been dead for over four centuries? They must be alive to God! In this way, the Sadducees are set aside.

Finally, a scribe steps forth. Although he is likely seeking to refute Jesus, the conversation ends up being promising:

Now one of the scribes had come up and heard their debate. Noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your and and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” “Right, Teacher,” the scribe replied. “You have stated correctly that God is One and there is no other but Him, and to love Him with all your heart and with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, which is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely, He said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk 12:28-34).

Speaking to His claim to be Messiah and Lord, Jesus invokes the authority of Scripture, reminding them that in Psalm 110 (a messianic psalm) the Messiah is called “Lord,” not merely the Son of David.

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, He asked, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? Speaking by the Holy Spirit, David himself declared: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.”’ David himself calls Him Lord. So how can He be David’s son?” And the large crowd listened to Him with delight (Mk 12:35-37).

Matthew records Jesus delivering a series of woes directed against the leaders and teachers of that time. These are delivered in a lengthy passage, which is available here: Seven woes. It is quite severe and shows a strong indictment of those who “major in the minors,” who maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum. Jesus concludes by saying,

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore, I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matthew 23:33-39).

To emphasize the contrast, Jesus notes a poor widow who gives a small amount but in reality far more generously than do those “leaders” with hardened hearts. Matthew then observes,

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:1-2).

They crossed the Kidron Valley and went up on to the Mount of Olives. Matthew records,

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24: 3-4)

Sitting atop the Mount of Olives, with Jerusalem displayed before Him, Jesus gives the terrifying and yet exhilarating “Mount Olivet Discourse.” It is quite lengthy and is available here: Mt. Olivet Discourse. In it, Jesus describes the coming destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in 70 A.D., forty biblical years after His Ascension. The destruction was the result of a foolish war with the Romans. Had the Jewish zealots accepted Jesus’ call to preach the gospel to the nations, the Romans would have been seen as brothers to convert rather than as enemies to kill. Over a million Jewish people died in that terrible war.

According to Matthew, Jesus also tells the “Parable of the Sheep and Goats” and the “Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.” Mark concludes with this: And no one dared to question Him any further (Mk 18:34).

It seems it was back to Bethany that Tuesday night, likely to stay at the house of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, but perhaps with Simon the Leper. It has been a long day of parables and teaching and of engaging with hostile opponents.

Tune in tomorrow, when it is “Spy Wednesday.”

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Passiontide Chronology: Tuesday of Holy Week

Passiontide Chronology: Walking with the Lord on Monday of Holy Week

According to Matthew 21:10-17, Mark 11:15-17, and Luke 19:45-46, Jesus returns to Jerusalem today. Seeing shameful practices in the Temple area, He cleanses it. The Gospels also recount His weeping over Jerusalem and His cursing of the fig tree. Matthew and Mark relate that He returned to Bethany that night.

Prelude: The Scriptures record that Jesus went to Bethany on the Sunday evening after His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday):

[Jesus] went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the Twelve (Mk 11:11).

It is likely that Jesus stayed at the house of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Bethany was a mere two miles from Jerusalem (though a steep climb), just over the Mount of Olives.

Pain: The next morning (Monday) Jesus arises and goes back toward Jerusalem. Luke records that as He came over the crest of the hill on the Mount of Olives He wept:

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If only you had known on this day what would bring you peace! But now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will barricade you and surround you and hem you in on every side. They will level you to the ground—you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Lk 19:41-44).

Today on this spot there is a chapel named Dominus Flevit (the Lord wept), which is in the shape of a teardrop. From here Jesus could see the whole city spread out below. He could also see forty years into the future to the time when the Romans would destroy the city and Temple, the culmination of a horrible and pointless war (64-70 A.D.) for liberation from the Romans. Had Jesus’ message been heeded, the Romans would not have been regarded as enemies to kill but rather as brothers to convert to the gospel.

Passionate Anger: Mark recalls an event as they come down the hillside:

The next day, when they had left Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if there was any fruit on it. But when He reached it, He found nothing on it except leaves, since it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again.” And His disciples heard this statement (Mk 11:12-14).

The fig tree is widely interpreted as representing the Jewish people. The Lord looked for fruits among His chosen people but found none. Jesus’ rebuke of the tree illustrates His righteous anger at and disappointment in their lack of the fruits of faith. Scripture says elsewhere,

And the men of Judah are [the Lord’s] pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, the outcry! (Is 5:6-7)

And Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’” (Luke 13:6-9).

Seeing no fruit in this last hour, Jesus in effect finishes the parable. The hour of judgment has come upon ancient Judah.

Many misunderstand the phrase that it was “not the season for figs,” falsely concluding that it was thus “unfair” to expect figs on the branches. However, it is for this very reason that one would expect to find figs growing in the branches, for if it were the harvest one would expect bare branches as the figs would have just been harvested. It is before the harvest that one expects to find figs, even if not fully ripe, growing in the branches. Seeing nothing but leaves, Jesus curses the tree.

Pivotal Event: The cleansing of the Temple was indeed a pivotal event. Here is Mark’s account:

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching (Mk 11:15-18).

The Lord’s grief and anger grow worse as He enters the Temple. What made him so angry? Mark’s Gospel states the reason most clearly: It is not the selling of animals (which were needed for the sacrifices) per se, but that they were being sold in a part of the Temple grounds reserved for the Gentiles to pray. This is an insult and amounts to a denial that the prayers of the Gentiles mattered at all. Jesus was about to die in order to reunite God’s scattered children. And I, when I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all people unto me (Jn 12:32).

As for the Temple being a den of robbers, the implication is that the dealings there are unjust and exploitative.

Why is this a pivotal moment? The action of Jesus is a prophetic judgment made in the very center of the Temple leaders’ power. The Temple was the locus of their power and prestige. It is not lost on them for a moment that Jesus has threatened all of this, not merely by what He has said but by his popularity among the people.

According to John’s Gospel (which actually remarks on this earlier in Jesus’ ministry), when the Temple leaders demanded a sign and an explanation for this action Jesus said,

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” “This temple took forty-six years to build,” the Jews replied, “and You are going to raise it up in three days?” But Jesus was speaking about the temple of His Body (Jn 2:19-21).

This had a further impact on the Temple leaders, who would later accuse Jesus (at His trial) of threatening to destroy the temple (e.g., Mk 14:58).

Theologically, Jesus is saying that Temple worship is over. He is the temple. He is the priest. He is the lamb. It is His blood that will cleanse us. Temple worship is ended because what it pointed to (Jesus) is now here. Its purpose is fulfilled in Him.

Quite a day, this Monday of Holy Week! Can you sense the grief and anger of the Lord? Remember, His anger is a righteous one. Everything was being fulfilled for the ancient people, but many are rejecting the very one God has sent to save them. Jesus cannot remain indifferent to their tragic rejection. He both weeps and has a grieving anger.

Do we weep for the condition of our world? Do we pray and seek to call forth the fruits of faith, justice, and truth?

Jesus does not give up. He will spend the next day teaching and seeking to win as many as possible to the truth of the gospel.

The Scriptures conclude Monday of Holy Week in this way:

And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night (Matt 21:17).

Perhaps Jesus is consoled in His grief and anger by the presence of friends like Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Perhaps He finds solace in the company of His apostles and others. Scripture says,

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
he that has found one has found a treasure.
There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
and no scales can measure his excellence.
A faithful friend is a medicine of life;
and those who fear the Lord will find him
(Sirach 6:14-16).

Stay close to the heart of the Lord. Be His “consolation.” Be the reparation for the rejection by so many others.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Passiontide Chronology: Walking with the Lord on Monday of Holy Week

See What the End Shall Be – Palm Sunday

The Passion, which we read in the liturgy for Palm Sunday, is too long to comment on in detail, so we will only examine a portion of it here.

It may be of some value to examine the problems associated with the more moderate range of personalities involved. The usual villains (the Temple leaders, Judas, and the recruited crowd shouting, “Crucify him!”) are unambiguously wicked and display their sinfulness openly. But there are others involved whose struggles and neglectfulness are more subtle, yet no less real. It is in examining these figures that we can learn a great deal about ourselves, who, though we may not openly shout, “Crucify him,” are often not as unambiguously holy and heroic as Jesus’ persecutors are wicked and bold.

As we read the Passion we must understand that this is not merely an account of the behavior of people long gone, they are portraits of you and me; we do these things.

I. The Perception that is Partial – Near the beginning of today’s Passion account, the apostles, who are at the Last Supper with Jesus, are reminded of what the next days will hold. Jesus says,

This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.” But after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.

Note that the apostles are not being told these things for the first time; Jesus has spoken them before on numerous occasions:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Matt 16:21).

When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief (Matt 17:22-23).

We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life” (Matt 20:18-19).

Thus we see that the Lord has consistently tried to teach and prepare them for the difficulties ahead. He has told them exactly what is going to happen and how it will end: not in death, but rising to new life. But even though He has told them over and over again, they still do not understand. Therefore He predicts that their faith in Him will be shaken.

Their perception is partial. They will see only the negative, forgetting that Jesus has promised to rise. Because they cannot see beyond the apparent defeat of the moment they will retreat into fear rather than boldly and confidently accompanying Him to His passion and glorification (for His passion is a lifting up; it is His glorification). Instead they will flee. He has shown the “what the end shall be,” but they can neither see nor accept it. Thus fear overwhelms them and they withdraw into a sinful fear, dissociating themselves from Jesus. Only a few (Mary, His Mother; John; Mary Magdalene; and a few other women) would see Him through to the end.

As for the rest, they see only what is gory and awful, missing what is glory and awesome. Their perception is quite partial. Paradoxically, their blindness comes from not hearing or listening to what Jesus has been telling them all along.

We, too, can easily suffer from a blindness caused by poor listening. The Lord has often told us that if we trust in Him, then our struggles will end in glory and new life. But, blind and forgetful, we give in to our fears and fail to walk the way of Christ’s passion boldly. We draw back and dissociate ourselves from Jesus, exhibiting some of the same tendencies we will observe in the people of that day.

Next, let’s examine some of the problems that emerge from this partial perception and forgetful fear.

II. The Problems Presented – There are at least five problems that emerge. They are unhealthy and sinful patterns that spring from the fear generated by not trusting Jesus’ vision. Please understand that the word “we” used here is shorthand and does not mean that every single person does this. Rather, it means that collectively we have these tendencies. There’s no need to take everything here personally.

1. They become drowsy – A common human technique for dealing with stress and the hardships of life is to become numb and drowsy; we can just drift off into a sort of moral slumber. Being vigilant against the threat posed to our souls by sin or the harm caused by injustice (whether to ourselves or to others) is just too stressful, so we just “tune out.” We stop noticing or really even caring about critically important matters. We anesthetize ourselves with things like alcohol, drugs, creature comforts, and meaningless distractions. Prayer and spirituality pose too many uncomfortable questions, so we just daydream about meaningless things like what a certain Hollywood star is doing or how the latest sporting event is going.

In the Passion accounts, the Lord asks Peter, James, and John to pray with Him. But they doze off. Perhaps it is the wine. Surely it is the flesh (for the Lord speaks of it). Unwilling or unable to deal with the stress of the situation, they get drowsy and doze off. Grave evil is at the very door, but they sleep. The Lord warns them to stay awake, lest they give way to temptation, but still they sleep. Someone they know and love is in grave danger, but it is too much for them to handle. They tune out, much as we do in the face of the overwhelming suffering of Christ visible in the poor and needy. We just stop noticing; it’s too painful, so we tune out.

The Lord had often warned them to be vigilant, sober, and alert (Mk 13:34, Matt 25:13, Mk 13:37; Matt 24:42; Luke 21:36, inter al). Other Scriptures would later pick up the theme (Romans 13:11; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 Thess 5:6, inter al). Yes, drowsiness is a serious spiritual problem.

Sadly, God described us well when He remarked to Isaiah, Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep (Is 56:10).

We do this not only out of laziness, but also out of fear. One strategy is to try to ignore it, to go numb, to tune out. But despite the sleepiness of the disciples, the wicked are still awake; the threat does not go away by a drowsy inattentiveness to it. Thus we ought to be confident and sober. Life’s challenges are nothing to fear. The Lord has told us that we have already won if we will just trust in Him. The disciples have forgotten Jesus’ promise to rise after three days; we often do the same. So they, and we, just give in to the stress and tune out.

2. They seek to destroy – When Peter finally awaken, he lashes out with a sword and wounds Malchus, the servant of the high priest. The Lord rebukes Peter and reminds him of the vision: Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me? (John 18:11) Jesus then heals Malchus, who tradition says later became a follower.

In our fear, we, too, can often lash out and even seek to destroy our opponents. But if we are already certain of our victory, as the Lord has promised, why do we fear? Why do we need to suppress our opponents and enemies ruthlessly? It is one thing to speak the truth in love, boldly and confidently. But it is quite another to lash out aggressively and seek to win a debate. In so doing, we may lose a soul. The Lord healed Malchus, seeing in Him a future disciple. The Lord saw what the end would be. Peter did not. In fear, he lashed out with an aggression that did not bespeak a confidence in final victory.

It is true that we are required to confront evil, resist injustice, and speak with clarity to a confused world. But above all, we are called to love those whom we address. There is little place for fear in our conversations with the world. The truth will out; it will prevail. We may not win every encounter, but we do not have to; all we must do is plant seeds. God will water them and others may well harvest them. In Christ, we have already won. This confidence should give us serenity.

Peter has forgotten Jesus’ promise to rise after three days; we often do the same. So Peter, and we, give in to fear and lash out, driven by a desire to win when in fact we have already won.

3. They deny – Confronted with the fearful prospect of being condemned along with Jesus, Peter denies being one of His followers or even knowing Him at all. He dissociates himself from Christ. And we, confronted with the possibility of far milder things such as ridicule, often deny a connection with the Lord or the Church.

Regarding one of the more controversial Scripture teachings (e.g., the command to tithe; the prohibition against divorce, fornication, and homosexual activity) some might ask, “You don’t really believe that, do you?” It’s very easy to give in to fear and to respond, “No,” or to qualify our belief. Why suffer ridicule, endure further questioning, or be drawn into an unpleasant debate? So we just dissociate from, compromise, or qualify our faith to avoid the stress. We even congratulate ourselves for being tolerant when we do it!

Jesus says, If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels (Mk 8:38). But too easily we are ashamed. And so, like Peter, we engage in some form of denial. Peter is afraid because he has forgotten to “see what the end shall be.” He has forgotten Jesus’ promise to rise after three days; we often do the same. We lack confidence and give in to fear; we deny in order to avoid suffering with Jesus.

4. They dodge – When Jesus is arrested, all the disciples except John “split.” They “get the heck out of Dodge.” They are nowhere to be found. After Jesus’ arrest, it is said that Peter (prior to his denials) followed the Lord at a distance (Mk 14:54). But as soon as trouble arose, he “scrammed.”

We, too, can run away. Sometimes it’s because of persecution by the world. But sometimes it’s our fear that following the Lord is too hard and involves sacrifices that we are just not willing to make. Maybe it will endanger our money (the Lord insists that we tithe and be generous to the poor). Maybe it will endanger our playboy lifestyle (the Lord insists on chastity and respect). Maybe we don’t want to stop doing something that we have no business doing, something that is unjust, excessive, or sinful. But rather than face our fears, whether they come from within or without, we just hightail it out.

The disciples have forgotten that Jesus has shown them “what the end shall be.” In three days, he will win the victory. But, this forgotten, their fears emerge and they run. We too, must see “what the end shall be” in order to confront and resist our many fears.

5. They deflect – In this case our example is Pontius Pilate, not one of the disciples. Pilate was summoned to faith just like anyone else. “Are you a king?” he asks Jesus. Jesus responds by putting Pilate on trial: “Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” Pilate has a choice to make: accept that what Jesus is saying as true, or give in to fear and commit a terrible sin of injustice. The various accounts in Scripture all make it clear that Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. But because he feared the crowds he handed Jesus over.

Note that Pilate did this. The crowds tempted him through fear, but he did the condemning. Yet notice that he tries to deflect his choice. The text says, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility” (Mat 27:24). Well actually, Pilate, it is also your responsibility. You had a choice and you made it. Your own career and your own hide were more important to you than justice was. And though you wanted to do what was right and were sympathetic with Jesus, merely wanting to do what is right is not enough.

So, too, for us. We also often favor our career or our hide over doing what is right. And in so doing, we often blame others for what we have freely chosen. “I’m not responsible because my mother dropped me on my head when I was two.”

We are often willing to say, in effect,

“Look, Jesus, I love you. You get my Sundays, and my tithe, and I obey you (generally, anyway). But you have to understand that I have a career; I need to make money for my family. If I really stand up for what’s right, I might not make it in this world. You understand, don’t you? I know the company I work for is doing some things that are unjust. I know the world needs a clearer witness from me. I’ll do all that—after I retire. But for now, well, you know… Besides, it’s really my boss who’s to blame. It’s this old hell-bound, sin-soaked world that’s to blame, not me!”

We try to wash our hands of responsibility. We excuse our silence and inaction in the face of injustice and sin.

And all this is done out of fear. We forget “what the end shall be” and focus on the fearful present. We lack the vision that Jesus is trying to give us: that we will rise with Him. We stay blind to that and only see the threat of the here and now.

III. The Path that is Prescribed – By now you ought to know the path that is prescribed: see what the end shall be. In three days we rise! Why are we afraid? Jesus has already won the victory. It is true that we get there through the cross, but never forget what the end shall be! Today we read the Gospel of Friday, but wait till Sunday morning! I’ll rise!

We end where we began with this Gospel: This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed;’ but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.

Yes, after He has been raised He goes before us into Galilee. And for us, Galilee is Heaven. Whatever our sorrows, if we are faithful we will see Jesus in the Galilee of Heaven. Never forget this vision. After three days, we will rise with Him and be reunited with Him in the Galilee of Heaven.

So take courage; see what the end shall be! The end for those who are faithful is total victory. We don’t need to drowse, destroy, deny, dodge, or deflect; we’ve already won. All we need to do is to hold out.

I have it on the best of authority that Mother Mary was singing the following gospel song with St. John for a brief time while at the foot of the cross, as they looked past that Friday to the Sunday that was coming:

It’s all right, it’s all right.
My Jesus said he’ll fix it and it’s all right.

Sometimes I’m up sometimes I’m down.
But Jesus he’ll fix it and it’s all right.

Sometimes I’m almost on the ground.
My Jesus said he’ll fix it and it’s all right.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: See What the End Shall Be – Palm Sunday

When Troubles Multiply – As Seen on TV

Sometimes when you’re having a bad day, troubles multiply; I’m not sure why. Perhaps one distraction leads to another, one trip leads to successive stumbles, until we fall headlong. It’s said that trouble comes in threes, but sometimes they come in even longer sequences. The poor soul in the video below is having one of those really bad days. Some of the following psalms came to mind as I watched this painfully humorous video:

The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses O Lord.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all his troubles.
(Psalm 25:17-22)

Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased to save me, Lord;
come quickly, Lord, to help me.
(Psalm 40:11-13)

Though you have made me see troubles,
many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
you will again bring me up.
You will increase my honor
and comfort me once more.
(Psalm 71:20-21)

I wonder if he could have avoided all of his troubles if he’d been at Mass on this Sunday morning instead of at home cooking breakfast. 😉

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: When Troubles Multiply – As Seen on TV