Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tenderness and Betrayal

The liturgical texts for Great and Holy Wednesday offer an interesting contrast. The tender love and repentance of the sinful woman is juxtaposed to the avarice and hard-heartedness of Judas. There seems to be a little confusion here about the identity of the woman, for it seems to identify her with Mary of Bethany or the woman who anointed Jesus at Simon the Leper’s house. But that shouldn’t get in the way of our meditation on the mystery. I will share a few of those texts here.

“O Son of the Virgin, the harlot knew You to be God and she prayed to You lamenting, for she had committed many sins worthy of tears. ‘Loose me from my debt,’ she cried, ‘as I unloose my hair. Show love to her who loves You, though rightly she deserves your hatred, and with the publicans I shall proclaim You, O Benefactor who love mankind.’

“While the sinful woman brought oil of myrrh, the disciple came to an agreement with the transgressors. She rejoiced to pour out what was very precious, he made haste to sell the One who is above all price. She acknowledged Christ as Lord, he severed himself from the Master. She was set free, but Judas became the slave of the enemy. Grievous was his lack of love! Great was her repentance! Grant such repentance also unto me, O Savior who have suffered for our sake, and save us.

“O misery of Judas! He saw the harlot kiss your feet, and deceitfully he plotted to betray You with a kiss. She loosed her hair and he was bound a prisoner by fury, bearing in place of myrrh the stench of evil: for envy knows not how to choose its own advantage. O misery of Judas! From this deliver our souls, O God.

“The harlot spread out her hair before You, O Master, while Judas stretched out his hands to the transgressors: she, to receive forgiveness, and he, to receive money. Therefore we cry aloud to You who were sold and have set us free: O Lord, glory be to You!

“The harlot drew near You, O You who love mankind, and poured out on your feet the oil of myrrh with her tears; and at your command she was delivered from the foul smell of her evil deeds. But the ungrateful disciple, though he breathed your grace, rejected it and defiled himself in filth, selling You from love of money. Glory be to your compassion, O Christ.

“Today Judas makes a covenant with the chief priests and receives the noose as pledge. Against his will, Caiaphas confesses that one man shall undergo a voluntary passion for the sake of all. O Christ, our God and Deliverer, glory to You!”

The emphasis on Judas seems to be meant as an examination of conscience for us, who may be avaricious, self-centered, ungrateful or spiritually blind. The woman is offered as a model to emulate, for the liturgy never tires of proposing repentance and love as the way to salvation. Now that we are in the midst of Holy Week, we ought to bring all our energies to the celebration of these mysteries of our salvation. We can’t afford to let these days go by in distraction and fruitlessness. All that has to do with Jesus is coming to a climax in our liturgical celebrations and in the prayer of our hearts. Rise! The time is coming for us to accompany Him to his Passion.