Daily Reflection
March 31st, 1999
John O’Keefe
Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalms 69:8-10, 21-22, 31, 33-34
Matthew 26:14-25

There are times when the lectionary surprises.  Following precedent set by the New Testament itself, it has long been the practice of the Christian Church to understand the “Servant” of Isaiah in the light of Christ.  The sufferings of Jesus, by tapping into Isaiah’s ancient hope, find a richness and depth of meaning that they would not have on their own.  Jesus is, so the Christian reading goes, the one for whom Isaiah yearned even if only obliquely and indirectly.  Today, however, the servant of Isaiah 50 stands next to the story of Judas’ betrayal.  What does this mean?

The Roman Missal may perhaps offer us a hint.  Sensing the oddness of this juxtaposition of Isaiah and Matthew in this particular context, the editors note that “the Son of Man is going the way scripture says, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.”  Throughout Lent, yet more intensely during Holy Week, we are asked to reflect upon our sinfulness.  Today, I think, if we read carefully, Holy Scripture warns us that we are not far from Judas.  Do not the words of Isaiah still ring true: “The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.”  Are we not weary? Are we not in need of such a word?  In how many ways are we in need of God’s mercy?  How often, through both our action and inaction, do we turn from obedience to the Gospel? What will keep us from following Judas down the all-too-easy road to betrayal?

Perhaps Judas would have done well to listen to the words of the psalmist as we do this day: “See you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God may your hearts be merry! For the Lord hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”  And so scripture invites us to hope, where Judas lost hope, in the redemption that Jesus has offered and to which Isaiah pointed.  Judas failed to understand the path that Jesus had to follow. He did not grasp that suffering must precede transformation.  He failed to understand the nature of God’s promise and the radical difference of God’s kingdom.

Yet there is something subtler here.  Matthew, Isaiah and the Psalmist invite us on this Wednesday of Holy Week to understand what Judas did not: the Path we must follow often includes suffering and must be followed in faith.  Isaiah’s servant “gave his back to those who beat [him]” in obedience to the Lord, but did not despair or turn.  The psalmist declared, “I have become an outcast to my brother, a stranger to my mother’s sons,” yet still he “praises the name of God in song.”  In contrast Judas lost his faith in the Lord when suffering came his way.  Let us not do the same.

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