Passion Sunday

Scripture Readings: Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66

“I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.” How did Jesus know this? When did he know it? Just before the Passion account, there was the scene of the anonymous woman anointing Jesus’ head with expensive ointment from an alabaster jar. All the disciples were indignant at the waste, Following that were two actions of disciples, two actions told in remarkably similar ways. In one, Judas alone asks the high priests, “What do you want to give me for handing him over to you,” and in the other the disciples in a group ask Jesus, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the  Passover?” In the one, Judas then keeps looking for an opportunity, literally, a favorable time, and in the other Jesus says, My time has drawn near. In the one, the goal is that Judas might hand him over, in the other the goal is that Jesus might make the Passover with my disciples. The disciples, who had been together in the house of the anointing and shared the indignation, are now together again in a house sharing the Passover with Jesus whom she anointed.

In between, though, those two parallel actions took place, one by Judas acting alone and the other by “the disciples.” Those two parallel actions each turned on desire and on time. Judas’ desire is about himself, “what do you want to give me?” The disciples’ desire is about Jesus, “Where do you want us to prepare for you?” Time for Judas is his opportunity for betraying Jesus, with all that will follow from that, Gethsemane, Good Friday, all except Easter Day. For Jesus, time is his Kairos, the moment of being betrayed by Judas, with all that will follow from that, Gethsemane, Good Friday, and including Easter Day.

In the telling of both accounts, then, the evangelist pairs desire with desire, me with you, time with time. But he also pairs, finally, “betray him” with “eat the Passover meal,” the two objects of the two distinct desires, desires that turn out to be not parallel but perpendicular, desire intersecting with desire. The evangelist is showing what Jesus deeply knew, that in his betrayer’s opportunity was his own kiaros, and that in some exquisite way the betrayal was both preparation for and the eating of this Passover, Jesus’ last one upon this earth. Judas acting on his own is the necessary complement to the disciples acting together; they are the same action, or at least tend to the same end, but seen from different points of view. “I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.” “Not I, Master, surely?” “These are your own words.” An uncommon intimacy between Jesus and Judas, the only two at table who know the truth. How did Jesus know this? When did he know it? In and from the moment of the disciples’ common indignation at the woman who anointed him: “Why this waste?” For in the woman who poured out from a precious vessel the very costly ointment, Jesus recognized himself who had “come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He was, he knew, in the eyes of many a scandal as a Teacher, unconvincing and weak as a Messiah. “What a waste,” people, even disciples, were beginning to say out loud, in indignation; all that remained was to put into movement the final solution.

My Kairos is near. The Passover was near, a perfect and poetic time for betraying the apparent betrayer of their hopes. It was almost inevitable, even arguably consistent with his Kingdom Proclamation, that “one of you is about to betray me.” As a biblical Jew, Jesus knew that events around a man’s life are not just a succession of detached dramas running along a line. Events are overlapping and spherical and each is full of the mostly disguised but always present God. For Christians, it is the same. The Gospels are not TV serials. The Gospels are paradigms for a life under grace, where contradictions contain redemption, and where enemies unwittingly act for the good. For the Christian, all events contain each other, just as each Sacrament contains all the others because each is full of the One Holy Spirit breathed from the Cross. The contemplative has caught on to this delightful key to life’s conundrums, and so the   contemplative can say with great peace and serenity, not once but three times, that is, always, “Father, your will be done.”