Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Judas in Us: Though We May See Ourselves in Scripture's Moral Cowards, We Have a Second Chance. (Testaments)

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Judas in Us: Though We May See Ourselves in Scripture's Moral Cowards, We Have a Second Chance. (Testaments)

Article excerpt

The Passion of Jesus: Matthew 26-27; John 18-19.

THE MAN IN THE DIRTY CLOTHES HAD BEEN trailing me for half a block. It was after dark, and even though I knew these streets pretty well, I was uncomfortable being followed so closely. Nine times out of 10 in situations like these, my feelings amount to pure paranoia. People in dirty clothes generally want no more than a little spare change from a passerby. I am in the privileged position of always having change to spare. It's a match made in heaven, one could say. Folks like me and folks like him, we belong together.

But being a woman complicates the matter a little. No matter how familiar or well-lit the streets may be, a woman followed by an unknown man is a formula for tension, if not trouble. It's not a question of being brave, but of being safe. I've made it a rule that I don't break: No stopping for strangers after dark. No exceptions, even for folks with broken legs or starving animals. That's why God made the police force and why taxpayers like me keep them in uniform. Or so I told myself as I walked faster, feeling vaguely like the Levite in the parable who passed up a wounded man in a ditch. I'm a better Samaritan in the middle of the afternoon, I mentally argued, but don't ask for my help after sundown. I've got rights, and my right to be safe is just as real as your right to be helped. All the while, I was sincerely hoping his leg was not broken and his dog was not starving, but I was not about to turn around to find out.

Finally, realizing I was ignoring him and that I meant to continue ignoring him, the man raised his voice and spoke to my retreating back. "For the love of Jesus," he said softly. I quickened my pace and disappeared around the corner, but I was in agony. His words were a knife plunged into my back, and though my intent was to be safe, I was never more at risk than then, as I eluded this stranger altogether. For the love of Jesus, was all he said. A simple plea for Christian compassion--and I said no. Not even for the love of Jesus will I stop for you. The horror of that choice is with me still.

So I know a little of what Saint Peter experienced in the chilling moment when he denied his Lord. Of course, Jesus warned that it was coming, and Peter refused to consider himself capable of such ignominy. "Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be!" he assures Jesus. His certainty is of course his downfall. The Rock--as he was nicknamed--never faltered, at least in his imagination. Peter was obstinate, single-minded, as loyal a friend as you might find. But he was blind to the limits of his courage, ignorant of his own capacity for sinfulness. He believed he was better than he was. This belief is the predecessor to all truly great sins.

So Jesus presses a little further, describing the very moment when the denial would come, numbering the times for him. And Peter repeats his boast: "Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you!" And we who know the story wince, because it's already been written, the crowing of the cock and the three deadly denials, the horror at a shameful prophecy fulfilled, and the bitterness of his tears. We ache with Peter because we have known this shame and have wept those tears ourselves.

What makes the story of Jesus' Passion so intensely involving for the whole church is that we cannot be bystanders in the reading of it. We have denied our Lord, we have slept through his agony, we have been paid coin for our betrayals, and we have deserted when the hour of our discipleship required the most of us.

But for the moment, Peter still believes in his own righteousness, and so do the other disciples. All except one, that is, though perhaps even Judas tries to kid himself that what he is doing has a motive higher than silver. The group pushes away from the table, singing hymns on their way to the garden where Jesus liked to pray and they preferred to nap. …

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