Today’s Gospel reading begins by telling us that Jesus was deeply troubled. And so, too, is anyone reading or hearing this passage: it is, in fact, one of the most difficult parts of the journey from Palm Sunday to Good Friday that we can read.
That’s because it’s about us.
This is the night when humanity comes face to face with its self-centeredness. This is the night when Jesus identifies those who will betray him: Judas and Simon Peter. Two of his Apostles. Two of the people who followed him believed in him, traveled with him, ate meals with him. Two of those who had offered up their entire lives in the service of the Lord.
We read this, and it’s troubling. We want to believe that, going into this dark time, Jesus had, at the very least, the comfort of his friends. We want to believe that the Apostles were 100% behind Our Lord, that they “had his back,” as the expression would have it. We’ve followed along as they entered Jerusalem with him, we’ve seen them go up the stairs to the room where they would share the Last Supper. We don’t want any of them to betray him because that makes them as fallible as the rest of us.
And the truth is, if it could happen to them, it could happen to anybody.
This is the night that resonates with all our own betrayals of God. This is the night we come face to face with the fear that paralyzes us and keeps us from doing the right thing. The fear of getting hurt, the fear of the unknown, the fear of the dark.
Fear is the primary weapon of evil in the world. And the Apostles had more than their share of it. Only days before, they’d entered into Jerusalem as part of a parade! After three years of travel, of privation, of doors being slammed in their faces, of doubt and wonder and probably many sleepless nights, they were entering Jerusalem in triumph. Only Jesus knew what lay ahead; the Apostles were probably beside themselves with joy.
And then the joy turned to fear. A night like any other that suddenly wasn’t like any other. Judas, turning away from the light.
There’s speculation about his motives, and we’ll probably never really understand them clearly. Peter, on the other hand, we understand perfectly: he was afraid. When it came down to it, when he had his moment, his opportunity to live what he believed, he couldn’t do it. He was paralyzed by his fear and he did what he’d sworn never to do.
We’d all like to believe that in moments of crisis we’d rise to the occasion. And many of us would: just as human history is the story of fear and weakness and betrayal, it’s also the story of bravery and generosity and faithfulness. Two of the Apostles betrayed Christ that night; the others didn’t. The others were there.
But there’s probably in each of us a voice that wonders if we would be. If we could resist the fear. If we could stay steadfast. Because we know that if it can happen to Jesus’ Apostles, men of strength and fortitude, then it could happen to any of us.
Jesus’ question to Judas was, “Friend, what are you here for?” Imagine for a moment that you’re there with them, that night and that he’s asking you the same question: What are you here for?
The answer is what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life.
Jeannette de Beauvoir works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media as marketing copywriter and editor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she studied with Adian Kavanagh, OSB, she is particularly interested in liturgics and Church history.