Beginning today, the readings for Holy Week proceed in episodes to follow the trajectory of Jesus’ Passion. The decision of Judas to inform on Jesus to the authorities in the Temple catalyzes the events that follow; John 13:21-32 relates the scene, highlighting Jesus’ awareness of events and of their necessity for his own glorification. John’s signature emphasis that the Crucifixion is itself part of Jesus’ triumph puts Jesus’ motivation and Judas’ on opposite tracks. Even with the awareness of Jesus’ coming glory, the sorrow of the final meal with his followers is palpable. Isaiah 50:4-9a contributes to this feeling by reflecting on the theme of purposive suffering. The passage belongs to a series of prophetic explanations in Second Isaiah (Isaiah chapters 40-55, an addition to the work of the eighth-century BCE prophet) that refer to the affliction of Israel and of the prophet during the Babylonian Exile, and portray that affliction as prelude to a triumphant return to the land after 539 BCE. Psalm 70 expresses the human capacity to have access to God’s saving power, which Jesus exemplifies. This access is associated with King David during his trials, referred to in the title of the psalm. Hebrews 12:1-3 links Jesus’ example to what is expected of all believers, and to all those who have suffered for their testimony to God, serving as an additional “cloud of witnesses.”
God, Our Source of Strength
In this reading, Isaiah speaks of the vindication of God’s servant, whom he generally equates with the people of Israel and, here, with himself. He speaks of his prophetic vocation and salvation by God as a result of his righteousness and willingness to accept the humiliation others impose on him. Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion prior to his escape from the grave reflect a central theme of this week, that of purposive suffering.
- 4. The Lord, God, granted me the tongue of those who are learned,
so that I know how to waken the weary with a word.
Each morning God awakens my ear to listen as do those who are learned.
- 5. The Lord, God, unsealed my ear,
and I did not rebel;
I did not turn aside.
- 6. I offered my back to those who wished to strike me,
my cheek to those who wished to pull out my beard.
My face I did not hide from insults and spit.
- 7. But the Lord, God, will help me;
therefore I have not been humiliated;
therefore I have made my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be shamed.
- 8. Close by is the one who declares me righteous.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand together!
Who has a case against me?
Let him confront me!
- 9a. The Lord, God, will help me.
Who can declare me guilty?
An Urgent Plea for God’s Protection
Psalm 70 presents a plea for God’s protection, recalling David’s appeal to God during his conflict with King Saul. More generally, it reflects the potential of and hope for divine intervention in all times of need, a reliance upon God particularly exemplified by Jesus in his Passion.
To the director, a psalm of David, in commemoration.
- 1. Hurry, God, to rescue me!
Lord, to aid me!
- 2. May those who seek my life be disgraced and humiliated.
May those who seek evil against me be driven back in shame.
- 3. Let them be turned back in their disgrace,
those who say, “Aha! Aha!”
- 4. Let all who seek you rejoice and be happy in you!
Let them who love your deliverance continually say, “Great is God!”
- 5. But as for me
—poor and in need—
God, come to me without delay!
You are my help and my refuge.
Lord, do not delay!
Following Jesus’ Example into Heaven
The Epistle to the Hebrews pursues its presentation of Jesus as both High Priest and perfect sacrifice. He has shown the way from the shame of crucifixion to exaltation in the very presence of God. For that reason his followers are called to imitate him, especially in their tolerance of aggression against them.
Consequently, we also—having such a cloud of witnesses surrounding us—ridding ourselves of every impediment and ensnaring sin, shall run the race set before us with endurance. Look to the origin and perfecter of the faith, Jesus—who for the joy set before him endured a cross, scorning shame, and sat down on the right of God’s throne. Ponder him who endured such aggression by those who sinned against their very selves, so that you might not weary, fail in your souls.
Satan Inspires Judas
The narrative motif that Jesus was aware of how and why events around him unfolded as they did is present in all the Gospels. In the case of the Gospel according to John, emphasis on that motif reaches a unique level. This occurs when Jesus personally gives Judas a sign that Judas is to collaborate with the conspiracy against Jesus. The motivation of the plot derives from Satan, and yet it also accomplishes the glorification of Jesus: his being lifted up to God on the cross.
Having spoken, Jesus was shaken to his core and said with certainty, “Amen, truly I say to you, that one of you will deliver me over.” The committed students looked at one another, perplexed over who he meant. One of his students, whom Jesus loved, reclined on Jesus’ breast. So Simon Rock—Peter—nodded to him and said, “Ask of whom he speaks.” Leaning back in to Jesus’ chest, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” So Jesus answered, “He for whom I will dip bread and give it to him.” So dipping the bread he takes and gives it to Judas, son of Simon, Iscariot. And after the bread, then Satan entered into that man, so Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” But no one reclining knew for what reason he said this to him; for some thought, since Judas had the money-bag, that Jesus said to him, “Buy what we need for the festival,” or that he should give something to the poor. Taking the bread, that man went out at once; and it was night. When he went out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. God will also glorify him in himself, and will glorify him at once.”