During this past Holy Week, those days just before Easter, I found Scripture particularly rich and moving. Certain passages gripped me anew.
Words and images surrounding two specific disciples of Jesus — John, the Beloved Disciple, and Judas, The Betrayer — were most prominent.
An artwork gracing the cover of my devotional, “Magnificat,” added to my thoughts in its compelling depiction of the Last Supper, showing Jesus gathered with his 12 apostles.
In this work, done at the end of the 15th Century by Master of the Housebook of Frankfurt, Germany, we find John crying in Jesus’ lap, while Judas, seated at the front of the work closest to the viewer, is turned away, touching the bag of money he’d collected to betray our Lord.
It’s taken me nearly five decades to notice that Judas is the one without the halo. Of course. But I’d never seen it before. Having noticed now, I was struck by these words from John 13:26: “So (Jesus) dipped the morsel and handed it to Judas…After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.”
The next day at Mass, the Gospel reading was of this same scene from Matthew’s account. Our priest, Father Paul Duchschere, noted that everything changed for Judas the moment he took the money. He’d sold his soul. Though he tried backtracking later, it was too late — he’d gone too far.
But it need not be for us. “Let us learn from Judas,” Father Paul suggested. “It’s the least he can do for us.”
Later, a friend shared an article by Mark Mallett, “The Shaking of the Church,” in which he likens many current-day Christians to the apostles who fell asleep at the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus needed them most. “Surely it is not I, Lord?” Mallett writes, reminding us of Judas’ statement denying his betraying actions.
But Mallett reminds us, too, that, according to the Gospels, “when the time of sifting came, all the Apostles fled the garden.” In some way, they all, not just Judas, abandoned Jesus.
“And so, we might be tempted to despair, saying, ‘Will I, too, Lord, betray you?'” Mallett suggests. “Yet there was one disciple who did not abandon Jesus: St. John,” he continues, explaining how, though he fled the garden, John returned to the foot of the cross.
Why? “Because he had been lying close to the breast of Jesus,” Mallett concludes. “John listened to the heartbeats of God…It was the echo of those heartbeats that guided John to the cross.”
Like the apostles, we are human, and prone to fear and listening to the culture that lies and betrays. But we have a choice, and it’s not too late to make it.
We can choose to be like Judas, or like John. I pray, by God’s grace, that by clinging to Jesus’ heart, I will, in the end, be among his beloved disciples.
Let’s all cling to the Lord’s heart, so we might rise with him.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on April 7, 2018.]