Today's Gospel reading tells us of the betrayal of Jesus (John 13:21-33).
Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side. So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant. He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly”... So Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.
"And it was night." The days of "darkness" are descending which precede... well... let us join the Apostles in their darkness, imagining what it would be like not to know the final outcome of the drama that is unfolding during this Holy Week. This drama will grow most tangible for the Church during the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. In ages past these days were accompanied with the office of Tenebrae, within which were sung a traditional set of Responsories for Holy Week. The video featured above is of Responsory #5 - Judas mercator pessimus - from Maundy Thursday, set to music by the Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualddo. I had the privilege of hearing this piece performed live by the vocal group Pomerium as part of the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica's concert series. (NB: The video above is not of the same group.) The words of the piece are as follows.
Judas mercator pessimus / osculo petit dominum: ille / ut agnus innocens non / negavit Judae osculum: / denoriorum numero Christum / Judaeis tradidit.
VERSUS. Melius illi erat, si natus non fuisset
Judas, the most evil merchant, obtained the Lord with a kiss. The latter, like an innocent lamb, did not refuse the kiss of Judas, [who], for a number of coins, betrayed Christ to the Jews.
VERSE: It would have been better for him if he had never been born
The concert program had this to say about the piece.
"The intensely personal nature of the music, and especially its tortured treatment of the guilty parties... confirms for us that Gesualdo did not indulge in the self-righteous anti-Semitism and Judas-bashing that these texts have triggered in others. On the contrary, Gesualdo's settings make clear the composer's own identification with those who traditionally have been blamed for Christ's crucifixion."
And, indeed, Gesualdo ought to be able to identify with the various betrayers in John's Gospel as anyone who has read some of his biography would know. Jesus also foretells Peter's abandonment in the Gospel reading of today. Our Lord experienced betrayal after betrayal during his Passion.
The days to come are not for the sake of vilifying this or that group proximately responsible for the death of Jesus. Rather, we are all guilty, and this week is profitably spent meditating on how we -- like Gesualdo -- can identify with the various players in the Passion narrative. How have we been like Judas? Like Peter? Like the Pharisees and the Jews that followed them? Yet this is not only a time for confession of guilt but also for imitation. How can we be more like John, or like our mother Mary, during this days to come?
O Lord, as darkness falls, be a lamp unto our feet that we may follow you securely on your way to the Cross. May the Betrayer not overcome us. Amen.