John 13:21-33, 36-38
False witnesses have stood up against me and my enemies threaten violence; Lord, do not surrender me into their power! (Psalm 26:12-Entrance Antiphon).
Today’s readings prepare us to accompany Jesus as he lives his last days on earth. The Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 49:1-6) embraces the many ambiguities of his life: the call to be a messenger of God from birth, the feeling that he has accomplished so little, maybe even nothing, the strong faith that God will ultimately prevail and the feeling that his mission is even greater than he originally realized. "It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, to restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the world." It is easy to see how this passage is applied to Jesus.
The Gospel (John 13: 21ff) shows us a Jesus who is deeply troubled. He is at supper with his disciples at the end of his life and he is keenly aware of his failures. He may have even felt like Isaiah when Isaiah describes himself as "having toiled in vain, and uselessly spent my strength," as seen in our first reading. Jesus is surrounded by his apostle whom he personally chose after a night of prayer. He knows that one of them will betray him. He is aware of the consuming, vicious rage of the chief priests and the religious leaders of his day and their inexhaustible quest to put him to death. He realizes that he has failed miserably to make his apostles understand the nature of his mission, and how difficult it will be for each one of them to follow him personally to the end. In fact, they all scatter when he is captured. They all abandon him at the very moment he needs them to testify to his innocence. At this point, Jesus could only pray for them and stand ready to forgive them when they realized their sin and welcome them back into discipleship if they chose to come back to the upper room after the Resurrection.
There are so many times that we find ourselves overwhelmed by the forces of life that surround us. Sometimes, the difficulties of life we face are brought about by our own stupidity or even sinfulness. We put ourselves at risk, thinking that we are stronger than we are, that we are smarter than we are or that we are more capable of overcoming sin than we are. At times, our immediate pleasure or personal profit is so enticing, that we choose the wrong instead of walking away. And there are even times when we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are doing something noble, for the good of the community, and so we are willing to betray the ones who love us the most. This, in my opinion, is what happened to Judas. Whether the forces of life that surround us are of our own making or not, we need to respond to them as Jesus did.
Jesus never allowed the forces of evil to have power over him. He never fell into the trap of despair, just because life was crashing in on him. He did not abandon his mission just because it was not going well. He did not hate his detractors just because they accused him falsely and wanted to put him to death. St. Paul says in Romans 12:21, "Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good." In this way, God will glorify us as God glorified his Son Jesus. This is the reason we pray: "Lord, do not surrender me into their power!"
Fr. Clemente Barron, C.P. is a member of the General Council of the Passionist Congregation and is stationed in Rome.