SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ISAIAH 50:4-9;MATTHEW 26:14 – 25 ]
4The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. 5The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. 6I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. 7For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. 9Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
Psalms 69:8-10, 21-22, 31, 33-34
7For it is for thy sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face. 8I have become a stranger to my brethren, an alien to my mother’s sons. 9For zeal for thy house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me. 20Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. 21They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. 30I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.32Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. 33For the LORD hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
14Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. 17Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?” 18He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.'”19And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover. 20When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; 21and as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”22And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”23He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. 24The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Is it I, Master?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
“The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’” It is easy to lose focus in life, especially in times of success or failure or challenges. This was the case of Judas. He was a member of the Twelve. What was the real reason for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus? Scholars are not in agreement. John’s gospel suggests that he was greedy. “He was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions.” (Jn 12:6) But some scholars suggest that Judas was disillusioned with Jesus for not starting a revolution to claim back the independence of Israel from their Roman enemies.
This indeed is the tragedy for many of us. Even priests and religious are not exempted. We enter into a priestly or religious vocation but along the way we are tainted by the lure of the world; pleasure, power and money; so much so we forget our original intention of responding to a religious vocation. Or it could be because of sufferings in the ministry; being misunderstood and unappreciated, we give up. Most of all, many suffer from disillusionment when we see others not doing what they should be doing and the authorities seem to be supporting the rich, the powerful and the influential. What I say to priests apply to all in Church ministries and full time workers in the Church. Many respond to the call of service and the spread of the gospel with good intentions, but end up fighting for position, power and honour, and squabbling for recognition. In some cases, the politics, injustice and discrimination is so rife, one cannot but give up hope and faith in the institution, if not Christ as well. Otherwise, the lack of support and appreciation from the community will lead one to discouragement and despondence.
Even in the area of personal life, we too can lose focus. Those who are married start with the great hope of building a loving relationship with their spouse and raising up a loving, caring and supportive family. Along the way, many lose their focus. They do not spend time with their spouse, share their life, their joys and sorrows, their successes and trials, aspirations and fears. Couples take each other for granted and hardly spend time with each other. As a result they grow more and more distant until they no longer feel with and for each other. With the lack of intimacy and personal sharing, they lose touch of each other. When love wanes, the vacuum in their lives is either filled by ambition, responsibilities, career or another person. This is how affairs always begin. What has happened to their dream of having each support, love, care, encourage and inspire the other, staying by each other’s side, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in riches and poverty till death to them part? Infidelity to one’s partner is so common today that trust in the institution of marriage has eroded. This explains why partners who are equally accomplished in their careers prefer to cohabitate than marry today than risk the messy process of getting a divorce.
Even for those of us who are career minded. The intention of earning more money and to be successful in career and business is to provide a good life for our spouse, children and loved ones. Money is a means to an end; not the end itself. Then again, we forget our original purpose. We get so caught up with our career, fame, money and power that we neglect our family. We become strangers to our children and spouse. We end up as financial providers, bursary dispensers and discipline masters. At the end of the day, with all our success and money, do we really bring happiness, love and unity to the family? True happiness in life is when we are with our loved ones, sharing, caring, laughing, joking and doing things together as a family.
Today, Jesus teaches us how to remain focused on our vision and mission in life. Although troubles were ahead of Him, even death, Jesus was unshaken. Doggedly and with singularity of purpose, He proceeded towards Jerusalem, the place of His passion and glory. He did not shrink from fear. Deliberately, He told His disciples that they would meet for the Passover Meal. The way Matthew described it seems as if it was all pre-planned by the Lord. He instructed the disciples, “Go to so-and-so in the city and say to him, ‘The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.’” Earlier on in His ministry, when the disciples were searching for Jesus, He said, “’Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mk 1:38f)
What is the secret to remaining focused? Firstly, we must again and again remind ourselves of our vision, mission and purpose of what we are doing. It is not enough to just keep on doing and repeating what we are doing each day without a deliberate intention and focus. We must not allow routine to set in and make us act like robots. Rather, we must be intentional in what we do each day, like the Suffering Servant in the first reading. “The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue, so that I may know how to reply to the wearied. He provides me with speech.” His calling was to give hope and encouragement to the weak and those who are tired. This too was the mission of Jesus when He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28)
Secondly, we must pray and listen. The suffering servant said, “Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord has opened my ear.” We are told that similarly, the Lord also woke up early in the morning to pray and listen to His Father. “And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed.” (Mk 1:35) This is the secret of our Lord. Intimacy with the Father, basking in His love and dialogue with Him is the key, the strength and passion for His ministry. Many of us do not pray to God. Neither do we have intimacy with our loved ones. This is why we lose our passion, zeal and capacity to love.
Thirdly, we must trust in the power of God to save us. Jesus did not take things into His own hands, unlike Judas who tried to force the hand of God to act. Like the Suffering Servant, Jesus relied on the defence that came from God. “The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults. So, too, I set my face like flint; I know I shall not be shamed.” We too must remember that success is not all hard work and strategy, but everything is in the hands of God. So we must entrust our work to God’s hand and not think that we can do it our way always. This was what the Suffering Servant and the Lord did. “In your great love, O Lord, answer my prayers for your favour. Taunts have broken my heart; I have reached the end of my strength.”
Fourthly, we must never retaliate. “For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.” Jesus taught us this in the sermon on the mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Mt 5:38-41) We must act, not react. To act means to think through carefully without vested interest how we should best respond to a situation, for the good of the enemy and for the greater good of the community.
Finally, we must at all times keep a clear conscience. This was what the Suffering Servant said, “My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me? Then let us go to court together. Who thinks he has a case against me? Let him approach me. The Lord is coming to my help, who will dare to condemn me? They shall all go to pieces like a garment devoured by moths.” If we are true to our conscience, no one can condemn us. Even if they do, the Lord will liberate us, as He did even upon death, as was the case of our Lord. If we have done all we could for the good of others and for the glory of God without any self-interest or personal gain, we should not be too concerned about failure or success.
In the light of this reflection, would you also say with Judas to the Lord, “Not I, Lord, surely?” Are we so sure we have not betrayed the Lord? Before we cast a stone at Judas and those whom we condemn, we need to have a good look at ourselves. The tragedy,, as Jesus remarked, is that the one “who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me.” We are the ones because we have dipped ourselves into the waters at baptism and received the Eucharist, sometimes even daily. Yet our lives contradict our dignity as the disciples of Jesus. Perhaps, the same could be applied to us, “Better if we had not been baptized!” Let us regain our focus in life and as a Christian as we reflect on the passion of our Lord. If we have betrayed Him, let us redirect our lives once again and focus on Him and His mission for us.