The Gospel for Sunday, April 9th, 2017: Palm Sunday

The Gospel for April 9th, 2017: “The Betrayal by Judas”

Matthew 26: 14-27:66

Reflection: Lessons from Judas

As Palm Sunday inaugurates Holy Week, today’s gospel is Matthew’s version of the Passion. This selection coincides with my reading of Fulton Sheen’s brilliant meditation, Characters of the Passion. The book interprets the roles of Peter, Judas, Pilate, Herod, Claudia and Herodias, Barabbas, and Christ during the events of the Passion as archetypes for particular aspects of the struggle of all sinners to live Christian lives. As I recently read the chapter on Judas, I was struck by how much I resemble him in my ability to hide the darkness in my heart. It is a startling and unsettling revelation. Since Judas’s betrayal  is one  of the features of today’s gospel, I would like to share some lengthy excerpts from Sheen’s chapter on Judas so that readers may consider if they too have fallen trap to the temptations of pride that led to Judas’s demise.

All excerpted material below is in italics:

Have you ever heard of the expression “a fallen away?” It refers to those who, at one time blessed with grace and the Divine Intimacy, later abandon it. Our Lord referred to them in the parable of the Sower: “And they have no root in themselves, but are only for a time: and then when tribulation or persecution ariseth for the word, they are presently scandalized” (Mark 4:17).

[Judas] was the only Judean among the Apostles and since the Judeans were more skilled in administration than the Galileans, Judas was given the apostolic purse. Probably he was naturally best fitted for the task. To use a person for what he is naturally fitted is to keep him—if he can be kept—from apostasy and alienation and dissatisfaction. But at the same time, life’s temptations come often from that for which we have the greatest aptitude.

Judas had the right to the fatted calf, but he preferred the golden one….Judas was more zealous in the cause of the enemy than he was in the cause of the Our Lord. Those who leave the Church in like manner seek to atone for their uneasy consciences by attacking the Church. Since their consciences will not leave them alone, they will not leave the Guide of their consciences alone. The Voltaire who left the Church was the Voltaire who scoffed. Their hatred is not due to their unbelief, but their unbelief is due to their hatred. The Church makes them uneasy in their sin, and they feel that if they could drive the Church from the world they could sin with impunity.

No sooner was the crime done than Judas was disgusted….But it is not enough to be disgusted with sin. We must also be repentant. The Gospel tells us, “Judas, who betrayed Him, seeing that He was condemned, repenting himself….” (Matthew 27:3). But Judas did not repent in the true sense of the word. He had a change of feeling.

Judas repented but not to Our Lord: “he repented unto himself.” The latter is only self-hatred, and self-hatred is suicidal….

{Like Judas}[i]t is we, then, who know Him, who possess His Truth and His Life, who can injure Him more than those who know Him not. We may never act the traitor’s part in a big way, but through insignificant signs: like the kiss of Judas, by a silence when we should defend, by fear of ridicule when we should proclaim, by a criticism when we ought to witness, or by a shrug of the shoulders when we ought to fold our hands in prayer. Well indeed may the Savior then ask us, “Friend! Wilt thou betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

…But [Judas] would repent unto himself, not to God….And the pity of it all was that he might have been Saint Judas. He possessed what every soul possesses—a tremendous potential for sanctity and peace. But let us be sure that whatever be our sins, and regardless of the depths of our betrayal, there is ever a Hand outstretched to embrace, a Face shining with the light of forgiveness, and a Divine Voice that speaks a word to us, as it did with Judas even unto the end: “Friend.”

While these excerpts lack the rich retelling of Judas’ role in the Passion from Sheen’s book, I hope they still provide a mirror similar to the one it has provided me. As I think of Judas, the archetypal sinner who hardens his heart to the Lord even in the very presence of his love, I see myself in all the times I betray Jesus with my interior thoughts and decisions , when on the outside I pretend to love Him with a false kiss. While  Sheen’s depiction of Judas unmasks me, the lesson is to not to continue the charade by thinking I can conquer sin on my own. On the contrary, the lesson for all of us sinners is to trust in Jesus for our repentance. Only His divine grace can help us overcome our weaknesses in the face of temptation. Judas’ demise was not in sinning alone, but rather in trying to save himself afterwards. I pray the Lord may grant me the humility of Mother Mary to avoid such a fate of foolish pride.

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