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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE RANSOM FOR MANY

The Gospel according to Mark, chapter 10

WHAT MOTIVE COULD EXPLAIN THIS SEEMINGLY FOOLISH RESOLVE?

“Caiphas and the enemies of Jesus had resolved to put Jesus to death. The feast of the Pasch was approaching, and Jesus expected to attend the feast at Jerusalem. To avoid the plot of Caiphas, after restoring life to Lazarus at Bethany, Jesus withdrew to Ephraim, a village twenty miles north of Jerusalem. He remained there until it was time to start the journey to Jerusalem for the Pasch.

When Jesus started on the road to Jerusalem the Apostles were both puzzled and frightened. They knew of the enmity of Caiphas for Jesus; they had taken the sojourn of Jesus at Ephraim to mean that Jesus was seeking to avoid the traps of Caiphas. Now Jesus seemed determined to walk into the clutches of His enemies. What motive could explain this seemingly foolish resolve?

Jesus, knowing their fears, said to them, ‘Behold, we are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the Scribes; and they will condemn him to death and will deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and put him to death; and on the third day he will rise again’ (Mark 10:33-34).

THE APOSTLES SEEMED TO HOPE IN A GLORIOUS MESSIAS

Jesus knew that His time had come, the time appointed by His Father for Him to die. He foretold it to His Apostles and disciples. He also told them that He would come back to life again on the third day after His death. Both of these predictions were mystifying to the Apostles. They understood neither of them. Their minds were so filled with visions of Jesus as a glorious, triumphant Messias, that they could not perceive any significance in the picture of a suffering, defeated Messias, even if He were to rise again.

‘YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE ASKING FOR’

That the minds of the Apostles were blinded by their own hopes for a glorious Messias is shown by the incident which immediately followed the prediction of the death of Jesus. The mother of the two sons of Zebedee, John and James, came to Jesus and asked Him, ‘Command that these, my two sons may sit, one at Thy right hand, and one at Thy left hand, in Thy kingdom.’ Jesus, addressing John and James, said, ‘You do not know what you are asking for. Can you drink of the cup of which I drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I am to be baptised?’ Believing that Jesus would lead them to a glorious triumph, the sons of Zebedee answered, ‘We can’ (Mark 10: 35-40; Matthew 20:23).

Jesus knew that they misunderstood Him. They had not seen that Jesus was to enter His own glory only after passing through death. Hence He asked them if they were ready to drink of the chalice which He Himself had to drink, that is, the cup of misfortune and death. Even though they did not understand, their loyalty to Jesus remained firm and they answered that they were ready to drink the same cup. Jesus then told them, ‘Of my cup you shall indeed drink; but as for sitting at my right hand and at my left, that is not mine to give you, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father’ (Matthew 20:23).

The other Apostles who had followed the conversation became indignant at the ambition of the two brothers. Jesus took the occasion to enlighten all the Apostles on the true nature of His mission. ‘You know,’ He said to them, ‘that the rulers of the Gentiles lord over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. Not so is it among you. On the contrary, whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; even as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:25-28).

THE PRICE TO BE PAID TO GOD FOR THE RESTORATION OF DIVINE LIFE TO MEN, THE SALVATION OF MEN

In these words Jesus gently rebuked all the Apostles for their worldly dreams of power. If they were to be His faithful disciples, they must not seek to lord it over their fellowmen, but rather to serve them. Jesus Himself has not come into this world to rule an earthly kingdom, but rather to serve mankind. In fact, He is to give up His life as a ransom for all men. Jesus had already predicted His death three times, the last time just before the ambitious request of the sons of Zebedee. Now, for the first time, He says clearly that His suffering and death will be offered as a ransom for men. He had already hinted at this aspect of His death when He compared Himself to a Good Shepherd and said that the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. A ransom is the price paid to liberate someone, and the Good Shepherd lays down His life to save the lives of His sheep. Jesus, therefore, is saying that His life is the price which will be paid for the salvation of men. It is the price to be paid to God for the restoration of divine life to men, the salvation of men, the establishment of the Kingdom of God among men.

‘LORD, SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON US’

The Apostles probably did not understand the words of Jesus, but they followed Him on His way to Jerusalem. As they drew near to Jericho, they were met by two blind men. When the blind men heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was passing by, they cried out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.’ Though some would have prevented them from disturbing Jesus, He commanded that they be brought to Him. He asked them what they wished of Him. When they asked Him to restore their sight, Jesus, moved by compassion, touched their eyes, and immediately their sight was given to them.

Shortly afterwards, as they were passing through Jericho, a great crowd filled the street to see Jesus. One of the townspeople, a certain Zacchaeus, a rich publican, climbed a sycamore tree to be able to see Jesus. Now publicans, tax gatherers, were regarded by the people as sinners, as extortioners. It was therefore surprising to the crowd when Jesus, seeing Zacchaeus in the tree, called to him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay in thy house today’ (Luke 19:5). Zacchaeus, sinner that he was, was overjoyed at the thought that the Wonderworker, Jesus of Nazareth, condescended to accept the hospitality of his house. But some of the people, probably those opposed to Jesus, murmured that Jesus did not hesitate to be the guest of a sinner. This gesture of Jesus, however, moved Zacchaeus to repentance, and he said, ‘Behold, Lord, I give one half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold’ (Luke 19:8).

THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS

Tax gatherers, publicans, worked for the Roman authorities, gathering taxes for them. For that reason, they appeared to the people as traitors of Israel. The gesture of Zacchaeus in returning the monies he had gained by his trade showed his sincere repentance. Jesus recognised this and said, ‘Today salvation has come to this house since he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost’ (Luke 19:9-10).

In these last words Jesus repeats the lesson He had already given His Apostles. He has come, not to establish an earthly kingdom but to save the souls of sinners. He will give His life for the salvation of men.

Either during or after the meal in the house of Zacchaeus, Jesus told the parable of the talents or the gold pieces. The people were looking on Jesus as a political Messias, who would restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus knew that their hopes would be disappointed when He died an ignominious death at Jerusalem. He tried, in this parable, to correct their false hopes and lead them to a better hope.

A nobleman, He told them, went to a far country to obtain a kingdom for himself. This would probably recall to the people the history of Herod, who went to Rome to obtain from the Romans the title of King of Judea. The nobleman, before leaving, sent for his servants and gave each of them some gold pieces which they were to use to gain profit for their master. But his enemies sent a delegation after him that they did not desire him to be their king. On his return as king he sent for his servants and demanded an accounting of the gold pieces. One servant had gained ten gold pieces, another five. He rewarded them by giving them positions of power and influence. But one of the servants had been afraid to hazard the piece given him, and so he returned only this piece, without any interest whatsoever. The king took even this piece away from him because he had been a useless servant. The citizens who had opposed him he put to death.

THE MEANING

In this parable Jesus was trying to describe the relations between Himself and His own people. He was the Messias, seeking to establish His own kingdom in the world. But he was to do so only by dying, by leaving His people for a time. In His absence His enemies will work to keep His kingdom from Him. But He gives His Apostles and disciples gold pieces, the means of building up His kingdom for Him. They must work for Him, even in His absence, to build up His kingdom. Even though He Himself is absent from them, they must persevere in His interests with hope and courage.

THE OINTMENT OF GREAT VALUE

After this warning Jesus continued on His journey to Jerusalem. Six days before the Pasch Jesus arrived in Bethany. Here He met Simon the Leper, Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. While they were reclining at table, Mary took a pound of ointment, spikenard, an ointment of great value. She anointed the head of Jesus with the spikenard, and then, since there was some left over, she anointed His feet also. Judas Iscariot, one of the Apostles, the treasurer of the band of Apostles, objected to this waste. The ointment, he claimed, could have been sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor.

St John tells us that Judas said this, not because he had any great love for the poor but rather because he was avaricious and sought money for himself. It is possible that Judas, of all the Apostles, was the most interested in the establishment by Jesus of an earthly kingdom, a kingdom in which Judas himself would become rich and powerful. He may, at this time, have become discouraged at the refusal of Jesus to seek to establish such a kingdom. In such case the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, the stronghold of His enemies, would have seemed to Judas to be madness, and so he was already prepared to betray the ‘madman’ who disappointed his hopes.”

– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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TODAY’S GOSPEL READING (LUKE 6:12-19)

(Week 23 of the year: Tuesday)

JESUS SPENT THE WHOLE NIGHT IN PRAYER AND HE PICKED TWELVE WHOM HE CALLED “APOSTLES”.

Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them “apostles”: Simon whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot who became a traitor.

He then came down with them and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples with a great crowd of all people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. People tormented by unclean spirits were also cured, and everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2014 in Prayers for Ordinary Time

 

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16th APRIL, GOSPEL READING (MATTHEW 26:14-25)

THE SON OF MAN IS GOING TO HIS FATE, AS THE SCRIPTURES SAY HE WILL, BUT ALAS FOR THAT MAN BY WHOM HE IS BETRAYED.

Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?” “Go to so-and-so in the city,” he replied, “and say to him, ‘The master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.’” The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said, “I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.” They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, “Not I, Lord, surely?” He answered, “Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me. 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!” Judas, who was to betray him, asked in his turn, “Not I, Rabbi, surely?” “They are your own words,” answered Jesus.

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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“FATHER, IF IT IS POSSIBLE LET THIS CUP PASS AWAY FROM ME” – OUR LORD JESUS IS SENTENCED TO DEATH

AFTER THE LAST SUPPER

“After the Paschal meal Jesus and His eleven faithful disciples left the room where they had celebrated the feast and went to a place called Gethsemani (‘oil-press’). There Jesus told eight of the Apostles to sit down while He Himself would go some little distance away, a stone’s throw, to pray. He took with Him Peter, James and John, who had witnessed His glory at Mt. Thabor. Now He would allow them to witness Him in His hour of agony and humiliation.

WITNESSES IN HIS MAGNIFICENT GLORY AS WELL AS IN HIS HUMILIATION

Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to offer His life for the sins of men. He knew that the bad will of men towards Himself was already taking steps to bring about His death. The priests, the Pharisees and the Scribes had already determined to bring about His death. Judas, one of His chosen Apostles, had already agreed to betray Him and was even then carrying out the execution of that criminal agreement. Sadness and dread filled the human soul of Jesus and He said to the three Apostles, ‘My soul is sad even unto death. Wait here and watch with me’ (Matthew 26:38).

SADNESS AND DREAD FILLED THE HUMAN SOUL OF JESUS

Then He went forward a little, knelt on the ground and prayed, ‘Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; yet not as I will, but as thou willest’ (Matthew 26:39).

This prayer of Jesus reveals, as perhaps no other incident in the Gospel does, the reality of the human nature of the Son of God. As the Son of God, God Himself, Jesus knew that it was the will of His Father that He should die a violent death for the salvation of men.

FACING A VIOLENT DEATH FOR THE SALVATION OF MEN

In His human nature, assumed to Himself at the moment when Mary said, ‘Be it done unto me according to thy word,’ He shrank instinctively from the prospect of death. Death was abhorrent to Him for many reasons. His soul was saddened by the thought that His death would be brought about by the pride and blindness of those of His own people who should have accepted Him as their Messias. This sadness was increased by the knowledge that His enemies would succeed in their plans against Him through the assistance of one of His chosen friends. But fundamentally His sadness was made almost unbearable by the most human of reasons – His body and soul naturally and instinctively revolted against the thought of death. But His will, His free human will, was in perfect harmony with the divine designs of His Father.

HIS FREE HUMAN WILL WAS IN PERFECT HARMONY WITH GOD’S WILL

And so, even though His human nature shrank from the ordeal of death, His will accepted the approach of death. In the midst of sadness and dread Jesus accepted the cup of death which His Father wished Him to drink. Adam had chosen something of this world, some created perfection in preference to God and submission to God’s will. By so doing Adam had turned the whole course of human history away from God, its true destiny. Jesus would give up this whole world – can a man give up this world more completely than by voluntarily submitting Himself to death? – in obedience to the will of His Father. By so doing Jesus would turn the course of human history back to God, its true destiny. Thus He would become the true centre of all history.

JESUS CHRIST, THE ‘NEW ADAM’

After this prayer Jesus returned to the three Apostles and found them asleep. How deeply human is this incident, and how touching. Jesus is enduring His time of trial. But His closest friends, even though they have been warned, are too sleepy to stand by, to console Him. The pain and the agony are not theirs, and so they give in to their own natural desires and instincts. The pain and the agony they do not understand, and so they refuse to believe in them.

SWEAT ‘AS DROPS OF BLOOD RUNNING DOWN TO THE GROUND’

Jesus leaves them again and makes the same prayer to His Father. Again He returns to the three Apostles and finds them asleep. Then He returns once more to prayer and the contemplation of His approaching fulfilment of the Divine will by His own death. The natural tumult of His soul at the vision of His own death causes His body to break out in a sweat which became ‘as drops of blood running down to the ground’ (Luke 22:44).

THE APOSTLES HAD DOZED OFF AGAIN

A third time Jesus returned to His disciples and found them asleep. Ruefully He said to them, ‘Sleep on now, and take your rest!’ (Matthew 26:45). But then, sensing the approach of Judas and His enemies, He said to them, ‘Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go. Behold, he who betrays me is at hand’ (Matthew 26:45-46).

BY THE LIGHT OF FLICKERING TORCHES…

At that moment some Roman soldiers, some Temple guards sent by the High-priest, entered the garden. Judas accompanied them. In the darkness of the garden, lit now only by the flickering torches of some of the people sent to arrest Jesus, it might have been difficult to recognise Jesus. Judas therefore had arranged to give the guards a signal. He would kiss Jesus and, by this gesture of friendship, betray Jesus to His enemy.

THE JUDAS’ KISS AND THE CONSEQUENCES

Judas advanced and kissed Jesus. The soldiers and guards moved forward to arrest Him. Jesus Himself advanced and said, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus replied, ‘I am he’ (John 18:4-5).

A QUALITY OF DIGNITY AND MAJESTY IN JESUS’ VOICE

Something in His bearing or in His voice – a quality of dignity and, perhaps of majesty – confounded those in the foreground and they fell back, pressing on those behind them so that some of them fell to the ground. But this effect of the inner power of Jesus did not prevent the fulfilment of the predestined mission of Jesus. Once more the crowd pressed in upon Jesus. Mindful of the safety of His own Apostles, and desiring to fulfil His own words that none of the Apostles, except Judas, the son of perdition, should be lost, Jesus said to them, ‘I have told you that I am He. If, therefore, you seek me, let these go their way’ (John 18:8).

PETER WANTS TO PROTECT JESUS

Simon Peter, with his usual impetuosity, drew a sword to protect Jesus. He struck the ear of Malchus, a servant of the High-priest. But Jesus knew that He would not fulfil His Father’s command by allowing His disciples to start an open revolt. ‘Put up thy sword,’ He said to Peter, ‘into the scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’ (John 18:11).

‘AS AGAINST A ROBBER HAVE YOU COME OUT’

Then, with sorrowful dignity, Jesus said to the crowd, ‘As against a robber have you come out, with swords and clubs. When I was daily with you in the Temple, you did not stretch forth your hands against me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness’ (Luke 22:52-53). And thus, Jesus, the Son of Man and the Son of God, resigned Himself into the hands of men to be done to death for the salvation of men.

BEFORE ANNAS, THE FATHER-IN-LAW OF CAIPHAS

The soldiers and the attendants of the Jews seized Jesus, bound Him and led Him to Annas, formerly High-priest, now the father-in-law of Caiphas, the incumbent High-priest. Peter and John had followed Jesus to the home of Annas. John was known there and gained entrance. He induced the guards to allow Peter to enter the courtyard. One of the serving maids, a portress, thought she recognised Peter as a disciple of Jesus, but Peter denied this.

‘IF I HAVE SPOKEN ILL, BEAR WITNESS TO THE EVIL’

Meanwhile Annas was questioning Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. Jesus, refusing to admit that there had been anything furtive or criminal about His behaviour, replied, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why dost thou question me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them: behold these know what I have said’ (John 18:20-21).

One of the attendants then struck Jesus, saying, ‘Is that the way thou dost answer the high priest?’ (John 18:22). Jesus, confident of the justice of His cause, replied, ‘If I have spoken ill, bear witness to the evil; but if well, why dost thou strike me?’ (John 18:23).

Meanwhile, in the courtyard Peter had been again tentatively identified as one of the disciples of Jesus, and had again denied knowing Him.

A HASTY SESSION OF THE SANHEDRIN WAS CALLED

Annas made no decision, but sent Jesus bound to Caiphas. A hasty session of the Sanhedrin was called. The priests, Pharisees and Scribes were all represented. A parade of false witnesses appeared against Jesus. But their testimony was not sufficient to enable the Sanhedrin to pronounce a sentence of death against Him. Caiphas had previously decided that Jesus must die. It was necessary, therefore, for Caiphas to find some cause for death which would both satisfy the Jews and induce the Roman authorities to make the sentence of death effective.

‘ART THOU THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE BLESSED ONE?’

Two witnesses come forward to say that they had heard Jesus say that He would destroy the temple and in three days restore it. This supposed threat to the temple was a serious charge. But the testimony of the witnesses was not concordant.

Then the High-priest himself asked Jesus, ‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ (Mark 14:61). Jesus replied, ‘I am. And you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven’ (Mark 14:62). Upon hearing these words the High-priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further need have we of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ (Mark 14:63). Then the Sanhedrin judged that Jesus was liable to death.

Again, outside, Peter was challenged and denied knowing Jesus. At that moment a cock crew and Peter remembered the warning of Jesus that he would deny Him thrice before the cock crowed thrice. Peter then wept bitterly.

AT DAYBREAK…

At daybreak Jesus was again led before the Sanhedrin. Again He was questioned. ‘If thou art the Christ, tell us.’ Jesus said, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me; and if I question you, you will not answer me, or let me go. But henceforth, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God’ (Luke 22:66-69).

Remembering that Jesus had allowed Himself to be called the ‘Son of God,’ thus making Himself equal to God, they asked Him, ‘Art thou, then, the Son of God?’ He answered, ‘You yourselves say that I am.’ This acknowledgement by Jesus that He was the Son of God convinced the Sanhedrin that He was guilty of blasphemy. They were unable to believe that He Whom they saw as man could be also be God. Hence they found Him guilty of blasphemy, a capital offence, punishable by death.

GETTING THE ROMAN AUTHORITIES TO DO THE DEED

But, although the Sanhedrin had the power to try Jesus and convict Him, they had not the power to carry out effectively a sentence of death. Hence they were compelled to appeal to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea, to condemn Jesus and see to His execution.

JUDAS WAS APPALLED AT THE DEVELOPMENTS

After the Sanhedrin had passed the sentence of death on Jesus, Judas, who had betrayed Him, became appalled at the consequences of his betrayal. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the priests. Then, in despair, he went out and hanged himself.

The priests, unwilling to use this blood money for the Temple itself or for themselves, bought a field to be used as a burial ground for the poor. St Matthew, putting together a prophecy from Jeremias [Jeremiah] and one from Zacharias [Zechariah], remarks, ‘Then was fulfilled what was spoken through Jeremias the prophet, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him who was priced, upon whom the children of Israel put a price; and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me’ (Matthew 27:9-10).

PONTIUS PILATE’S POLITICAL AMBITIONS WERE HIS WEAKNESS

Now Pilate was both a Roman and a politician. As a Roman he had great respect for law. As a politician he had a great desire to administer his procuratorship successfully, above all, to avoid getting into trouble with the Emperor at Rome. His respect for law was an advantage to Jesus, for, after all, Jesus had done nothing to bring upon Himself the wrath of Rome. But his political ambitions were the weaknesses which the priests used to induce him to accede to their wishes.

‘WHAT IS TRUTH?’

First they pretended that Jesus was inciting the people to rebellious or seditious acts. ‘We have found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding the payment of taxes to Caesar, and saying that he is Christ a king’ (Luke 23:2). Pilate asked Jesus if He were the king of the Jews. Jesus answered him, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would have fought that I might not be delivered to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate, seeing that Jesus did speak of a kingdom as His own kingdom, said to Him, ‘Thou art then a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘Thou sayest it; I am a king. This is why I was born, and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’ Pilate, a practical government official, not given much to questions of philosophy or religion, said, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:33-38).

HE SAW THAT JESUS WAS NO THREAT TO ROME

The Jews had attempted to induce Pilate to condemn Jesus on the charge that He was pretending to be a political king, inciting the people to rebellion against Rome. Jesus had acknowledged that He was a king indeed, but the king of a spiritual realm, the realm of truth. Pilate, seeing this, knew that Jesus was not a threat to the political domination of Rome. As for intellectual or religious domination, he was indifferent to such matters. Hence he found Jesus guilty of no crime against the state.

A DIPLOMATIC MOVE

But the enemies of Jesus persisted in saying that Jesus was stirring up the people. On learning from them that Jesus was from Galilee Pilate seized the opportunity to rid himself of this troublesome case and regain the friendship of Herod Antipas, king of Galilee. He sent Jesus to Herod for judgment. Herod was pleased at this mark of respect for his own authority. Besides, he had heard of Jesus and thought that Jesus might work a miracle for him. Jesus, of course, refused to cater to such curiosity seeking and, in fact, refused to answer any questions. Thereupon Herod, himself a shrewd politician, sent Jesus back to Pilate.

TRYING ANOTHER STATEGY TO SOLVE THE DILEMMA

Pilate then pointed out to the priests and leaders of the people that both he and Herod had found no guilt in Jesus. But they persisted in their demands for the execution of Jesus. Pilate then thought of a stratagem.

It was customary for the procurator to release a prisoner at the time of the festival. Pilate then offered to the crowd the choice between a man called Barabbas, a political prisoner and assassin, and Jesus, called the Christ. Unfortunately Pilate asked whether they wished him to release Jesus, ‘the king of the Jews’? (Mark 15:9). Now the very people clamouring for the death of Jesus had refused to acknowledge Jesus as their king in the world of spirit. Moreover, at the moment, He was a figure of humiliation, a prisoner in the hands of the hated Roman authorities. Hence they cried out, ‘Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas’ (Luke 23:18).

PILATE TRIED AGAIN

Pilate tried again. ‘What then do you want me to do to the king of the Jews?’ (Mark 15:12). The people cried out, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate, in desperation, asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they kept crying out ‘Crucify him!’ (Mark 15:12-13).

THE SCOURGING AT THE PILLAR

Pilate resorted to another stratagem. He ordered his soldiers to scourge Jesus. This was a procedure usually adopted by the Romans before the crucifixion of a condemned criminal. Pilate seems to have thought that when the people saw Jesus so brutally wounded and helpless they would relent and consent to His release.

The soldiers led Jesus away to the courtyard of the praetorium. There they stripped Him, scourged Him until His skin was stripped to the bone and His blood ran on the pavement.

THE CROWNING WITH THORNS

Then, in the fashion of rough soldiers, they mocked Him, clothing Him in the purple of kings and crowning Him with a crown of thorns. After this they led Him back to Pilate.

‘ECCE HOMO’ – ‘BEHOLD THE MAN’

Pilate then showed Him to the people and said to them, ‘Behold, I bring Him out to you, that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ When the priests and their attendants saw Jesus they cried out again ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate in anger said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ But the Jews replied, ‘We have a Law, and according to that Law he must die, because he has made himself Son of God’ (John 19:4-7).

HE HAD NO DOUBT BEEN IMPRESSED WITH BY THE CALM AND DIGNIFIED BEHAVIOUR OF JESUS

Now Pilate, a Roman, was accustomed to the notion that the gods might have sons or daughters. Moreover, he had no doubt been impressed by the calm and dignified behaviour of Jesus, as contrasted with the turbulence and violence of the crowd. Hence, if only through superstition, he became afraid.

He went to Jesus and asked Him, ‘Whence art thou from?’

Pilate already knew that Jesus was from Galilee. His question, therefore, was not concerned with the geographical place of origin of Jesus. He was wondering whether or not Jesus might belong to the pantheon of gods in whom the Romans believed, or to the pantheon of one of the eastern nations of the world.

PILATE’S CONFIDENCE WAS SHAKEN

Jesus gave no answer. Then Pilate reminded Him that he had the power of life and death over Him. Jesus then replied, ‘Thou wouldst have no power at all over me were it not given thee from above. Therefore, he who betrayed me to thee has the greater sin’ (John 19:11).

IF YOU RELEASE HIM WE’LL REPORT YOU TO THE EMPEROR AND YOUR POLITICAL CAREER IS OVER

Pilate was still in doubt about the identity of Jesus. But his confidence was shaken and he wished to release Jesus. But the priests and the crowd put his own personal issue to him clearly. ‘If thou release this man,’ they said to Pilate, ‘thou art no friend of Caesar; for everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar’ (John 19:12).

PILATE BETRAYS HIS OWN PRINCIPLES

Pilate made one last effort. He brought Jesus before the crowd once again. Jesus stood before them, a man weak and bleeding, clad in a mock robe of royal purple, wearing a mock crown of thorns. Then Pilate said, ‘Behold your king!’ But the people, rather than accept so abject a figure as their king, cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ The priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar’ (John 19:13-15).

Pilate’s Roman instinct for law lost the battle. His conscience was conquered. Before the threat to report him to Rome for negligence in dealing with possible enemies of the Emperor, Pilate betrayed his own principles. He delivered Jesus to the Jews to be crucified.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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15th APRIL, GOSPEL READING (JOHN 13:21-33, 36-38)

ONE OF YOU WILL BETRAY ME… BEFORE THE COCK CROWS YOU WILL HAVE DISOWNED ME THREE TIMES.

While at supper with his disciples, Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, “I tell you most solemnly, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, wondering which he meant. The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus; Simon Peter signed to him and said, “Ask who it is he means”, so leaning back on Jesus’ breast he said, “Who is it, Lord?” “It is the one,” replied Jesus “to whom I give the piece of bread that I shall dip in the dish.” He dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus then said, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” None of the others at table understood the reason he said this. Since Judas had charge of the common fund, some of them thought Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival,” or telling him to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. Night had fallen.
When he had gone Jesus said:
“Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.
My little children,
I shall not be with you much longer.
You will look for me,
and, as I told the Jews,
where I am going
you cannot come.”

Simon Peter said, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later.” Peter said to him, “Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” “Lay down your life for me?” answered Jesus. “I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.”

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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PALM SUNDAY, THE PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (MATTHEW 27:11-54)

At that time Jesus said to his disciples: You know that after two days shall be the pasch, and the Son of Man shall be delivered up to be crucified. Then were gathered together the chief priests and the ancients of the people, into the court of the high priest, who was called Caiphas: and they consulted together, that by subtilty they might apprehend Jesus and put him to death. But they said: Not on the festival day, lest perhaps there should be a tumult among the people.

And when Jesus was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, there came to him a woman having an alabaster-box of precious ointment, and poured it on his head as he was at table. And the disciples seeing it, had indignation, saying: To what purpose is this waste? For this might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. And Jesus, knowing it, said to them: Why do you trouble this woman? For she hath wrought a good work upon me. For the poor you have always with you; but me you have not always. For she, in pouring this ointment upon my body, hath done it for my burial. Amen I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done will be told, for a memory of her.

Then went one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, to the chief priests, and he said to them, What will you give me, and I will deliver him unto you? But they appointed him thirty pieces of silver. And from thenceforth he sought opportunity to betray him.

And on the first day of the azymes the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the pasch? But Jesus said, Go ye into the city to a certain man, and say to him, The master saith: My time is near at hand, I will keep the pasch at thy house with my disciples. And the disciples did as Jesus appointed to them; and they prepared the pasch.

Now when it was evening, he sat down with his twelve disciples: and whilst they were eating, he said, Amen I say to you, that one of you is about to betray me. And they, being very much troubled, began every one to say, Is it I, Lord?

But he answering, said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, he shall betray me. The Son of Man indeed goeth, as it is written of him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man shall be betrayed: it were better for him if that man had not been born. And Judas that betrayed him, answering, said, Is it I, Rabbi? He saith to him, Thou hast said it.

And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave it to his disciples, and said, Take ye, and eat: this is my body. And taking the chalice, he gave thanks: and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins. And I say unto you, I will not drink from henceforth from this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it with you in the kingdom of my Father. And a hymn being said, they went out unto Mount Olivet.

Then Jesus saith unto them, All you shall be scandalised in me this night; for it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed: but after I shall be risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. And Peter answering, said to him, Although all shall be scandalised in thee, I will never be scandalised. Jesus said unto him, Amen I say to thee, that in this night, before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice. Peter saith to him: Yea, though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee: and in like manner said all the disciples.

Then Jesus came with them into a country place which is called Gethsemani; and he said to his disciples, Sit you here till I go yonder and pray: and taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to grow sorrowful and to be sad. Then he saith to them, My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here and watch with me. And going a little farther, he fell upon his face, praying, and saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh tohis disciples, and findeth them asleep: and he saith to Peter, What! Could you not watch one hour with me? Watch ye, and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. Again the second time, he went, and prayed, saying, My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, thy will be done. And he cometh again, and findeth them sleeping: for their eyes were heavy. And leaving them, he went again: and he prayed the third time, saying the self-same word.

Then he cometh to his disciples, and saith to them, Sleep ye now, and take your rest; behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go: behold, he is at hand that will betray me.

As he yet spoke, behold Judas, one of the twelve, came: and with him a great multitude with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the ancients of the people. And he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he: hold him fast. And forthwith coming to Jesus, he said, Hail, Rabbi, and he kissed him. And Jesus said to him, Friend, whereto art thou come? Then they came up, and laid hands on Jesus, and held him. And behold one of them that were with Jesus, stretching forth his hand, drew out his sword, and striking the servant of the high priest, cut off his ear. Then Jesus saith to him, Put up again thy sword into its place; for all that take the sword shall perish by the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot ask my Father, and he will give me presently more than twelve legions of angels? How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that so it must be done?

In that same hour Jesus said to the multitudes, You are come out, as were to a robber, with swords and clubs to apprehend me. I sat daily with you teaching in the Temple, and you laid not hands on me. Now all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then the disciples, all leaving him, fled.

But they holding on to Jesus, led him to Caiphas the high priest where the scribes and ancients were assembled. And Peter followed him afar off, even to the court of the high priest. And going in, he sat with the servants, that he might see the end.

And the chief priests and the whole council sought false witnesses against Jesus, that they might put him to death. And they found not; whereas many false witnesses had come in. And last of all, there came two false witnesses. And they said, This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and in three days to rebuild it. And the high priest, rising up, said, to him, Answerest thou nothing to the things which thee witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest said to him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us if thou be the Christ the Son of God. Jesus saith to him, Thou hast said it. Nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his garments, saying, He hath blasphemed, what further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now you have heard the blasphemy. What think you? But they answering, said, He is guilty of death. Then did they spit in his face and buffeted him; and others struck his face with the palms of their hands, saying, Prophesy unto us, O Christ, who is it that struck thee?

But Peter sat without in the court, and there came to him a servant-maid, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And as he went out of the gate, another maid saw him, and she saith to them that were there, This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I know not the man. And after a little while, they came that stood by and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for even thy speech does discover thee. Then he began to curse and swear that he knew not the man; and immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus which he had said, Before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice. And going forth, he wept bitterly.

And when morning was come, all the chief priests and ancients of the people took counsel against Jesus, to put him to death. And they brought him bound, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate, the governor. Then Judas, who betrayed him, seeing that he was condemned, repenting himself, brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and ancients, saying, I have sinned, in betraying innocent blood: but they said, What is that to us? look thou to it. And casting down the pieces of silver in the Temple, he departed, and hanged himself with a halter. But the chief priests having taken the pieces of silver, said, It is not lawful to put them into the corbona; because it is the price of blood. And after they had consulted together, they bought with them the potter’s field, to be a burying place for strangers. Wherefore that field was called Haceldama, that is the field of blood, even to this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was prized whom they prized of the children of Israel; and they gave them unto the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed to me.

And Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the king of the Jews? Jesus saith to him, Thou sayest it. And when he was accused by the chief priests and ancients, he answered nothing. Then Pilate saith to him, Dost not thou hear how great testimonies they allege against thee? And he answered him to never a word; so that the governor wondered exceedingly.

Now upon the solemn day the governor was accustomed to release to the people one prisoner, whom they would; and he had then a notorious prisoner that was called Barabbas. They, therefore, being gathered together, Pilate said, Whom will you that I release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus that is called the Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. And as he was sitting in the place of judgment, his wife sent to him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. But the chief priests and ancients persuaded the people that they should ask Barabbas, and make Jesus away. And the governor answering, said to them, Whether will you of the two to be released unto you? But they said, Barabbas. Pilate saith to them, What shall I do with Jesus that is called Christ? They say all, Let him be crucified. The governor said to them, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. And Pilate seeing that he prevailed nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, taking water, washed his hands before the people, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just man; look you to it. And the whole people answering, said, His blood be upon us and upon our children. Then he released to them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him unto them to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor taking Jesus into the hall, gathered together unto him the whole band; and stripping him they put a scarlet cloak about him. And plaiting a crown of thorns they put it upon his head and a reed in his right hand. And bowing the knee before him, they mocked him, saying, Hail, king of the Jews. And spitting upon him, they took the reed and struck his head. And after they had mocked him, they took off the cloak from him, and put on him his own garments, and led him away to crucify him.

And going out, they found a man of Cyrene, named Simon; him they forced to take up his cross. And they came to the place that is called Golgotha, which is, The place of Calvary. And they gave him wine to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted he would not drink.

And after they had crucified him, they divided his garments, casting lots; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, They divided my garments among them, and upon my vesture they cast lots. And they sat, and watched him. And they put over his head his cause written, This is Jesus the King of the Jews.

Then were crucified with him two thieves, one on the right hand, and one on the left. And they that passed by, blasphemed him, wagging their heads, and saying, Vah, thou that destroyest the temple of God, and in three days dost rebuild it, save thy own self; if thou be the Son of God come down from the cross. In like manner also the chief priests with the scribes and ancients mocking, said, He saved others, himself he cannot save: if he be the king of Israel, let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him; he trusted in God, let him now deliver him if he will have him; for he said, I am the Son of God. And the self-some thing the thieves also, that were crucified with him, reproached him with.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over the whole earth, until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani; that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And some that stood there, and heard, said, This man calleth Elias. And immediately one of them running, took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed and gave him to drink. And the others said, Let be; let us see whether Elias will come to deliver him. And Jesus again crying with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

(Here all kneel, and pause.)

And behold the veil of the temple was rent in two, from the top even to the bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent, and the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints that had slept arose, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, came into the holy city, and appeared to many. Now the centurion and they that were with him watching Jesus, having seen the earthquake and the things that were done, were sore afraid, saying, Indeed this was the Son of God.

And there were many women, afar off, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him; among whom was Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

And when it was evening, there came a certain rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate, and asked the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded that the body should be delivered. And Joseph taking the body, wrapped it up in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new monument, which he had hewn out in a rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the monument and went his way.

And the next day, which followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees came together to Pilate, saying, Sir, we have remembered that the seducer said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again: command therefore the sepulchre to be guarded until the third day, lest perhaps his disciples come and steal him away, and say to the people, He is risen from the dead; and the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said to them, You have a guard; go, guard it as you know. And they, departing, made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting guards.

 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE LAST SUPPER

WHY WAS JESUS CHRIST TO BE ARRESTED AT NIGHT, RATHER THAN IN BROAD DAYLIGHT?

“It was Wednesday, the second day before the Feast of the Passover. The enemies of Jesus were anxious to defeat Him. Having failed to discredit Him, they were now determined to put Him to death. Even though Jesus Himself had refused to accept the role of a political Messias who would lead the people in revolt against the Roman authority, the Pharisees and Scribes were apprehensive that He might stir up such a revolt during the eight days of the Paschal Feast. If He did, then the wrath of Pilate, the Roman Procurator, would direct the power of the Roman soldiery against Jerusalem. To forestall this possibility, they felt, it was necessary to put Jesus to death. But they were also afraid of the people. Many of them had manifested a belief in Jesus. If Jesus was arrested publicly, the people might stir up such a tumult as would induce Pilate to act. How could they take Jesus by stealth?

STABBED IN THE BACK BY ONE OF HIS CLOSEST FRIENDS

Their problem was solved for them by the treachery of Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve Apostles. Each day, after teaching in the Temple, Jesus withdrew at night either to Bethany or to the Mount of Olives. Judas undertook to inform the enemies of His whereabouts, so that they might take Him secretly, without causing any public tumultuous demonstration.

WHAT WAS JUDAS’ REAL MOTIVE OF HIS BETRAYAL?

The action of Judas is the most infamous betrayal in all human history. The opinions of men on the character and action of Judas have varied with their attitude toward Jesus Himself. To some, who reject Jesus as the Messias of God, Judas appears as a follower of the Pharisees. The strength of the Pharisees’ opposition to Jesus finally convinced Judas that Jesus was a seducer of the people, a man who would lead the people away from true Judaism. In betraying Jesus Judas would be doing a service to the people and to God. The nobility and purity of this motive, however, are somewhat discoloured by the willingness of Judas to accept thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus.

A REVOLUTIONARY?

Others would like to think that the betrayal was simply a stratagem adopted by Judas to force Jesus to manifest His power and inaugurate the political revolution which Judas desired. Since the Apostles, like the people generally, still looked for political liberation, the actions of Judas, in such a case, would be stripped of their sickening appearance. This is not, perhaps, impossible. But once again the avaricious spirit of Judas and his acceptance of money to betray His Master detract also from the sincerity of his motive.

NO DOUBTS ABOUT HIS PART IN THE EVENTS

On the other hand the one thing clear in the Gospel story is that Judas, who was avaricious, did accept money to betray Jesus. St Matthew states that it was Judas who first mentioned money, saying to the chief priests, ‘What are you willing to give me, and I will deliver him to you?’ (Matthew 26:15).

THE IMPORTANCE OF FREE WILL IN HISTORY

Probably, then, Judas was moved to his action both by disappointment at the refusal of Jesus to become a political Messias and by a love of money.
The fall of Judas is, however, a striking instance of God’s way of dealing with men and the importance of free will in history. God knows that Judas will betray his Master. Yet Jesus chooses Judas as one of the favoured twelve Apostles. This means that, at least at the beginning, Judas was a man of some good will. He could have served his Master faithfully. He could have overcome his own greed for money and power. Jesus, the Son of God, gave him the chance to achieve great spiritual glory. But neither Jesus nor His Father in heaven would force Judas to remain faithful. It was for Judas himself to impress upon history his own likeness as a man of great loyalty or a man of ignominious betrayal.

THE EMPTINESS OF HUMAN REBELLION AGAINST THE WILL OF GOD

The betrayal by Judas is also an instance of the emptiness of human rebellion against the will of God. It was not God’s will that Judas should be unfaithful. ‘Woe to that man by whom he will be betrayed’ (Luke 22:22). But yet, the betrayal will be used by God to accomplish His plan for the salvation of mankind. ‘For the Son of Man indeed goes his way, as it has been determined’ (Luke 22:22a).

WHY THURSDAY, NOT FRIDAY?

On the next day, Thursday, Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare for the celebration of the Paschal Feast at Jerusalem. From St John’s Gospel it would appear that the Sadducees were going to celebrate the Paschal Feast on Friday night that year. The intention of Jesus to celebrate it on Thursday night might be explained by the fact that Galileans, present at the feast, would celebrate it on Thursday in order not to defile the Sabbath, which would begin on Friday evening.

THE HISTORY

On Thursday evening Jesus and His disciples entered Jerusalem and went to the upper room of a house (probably the house of a friend of Jesus) to celebrate Passover. Now the Passover meal was a remembrance of the Exodus, God’s deliverance of the Chosen People from Egypt. It was therefore a joyous feast. The joy of the feast was symbolised by the drinking of four cups of wine and the eating of the Paschal lamb. The feast began with the blessing of the first cup of wine. After this bitter herbs were eaten after being dipped in a sauce composed of nuts, fruit and vinegar. The bitter herbs were a remembrance of the bitter oppression which the Chosen People suffered under the Egyptians. The unleavened bread eaten with the meal was a reminder of the haste with which the Jews had had to depart from Egypt; they had not time to bake leavened bread. The sacrifice of a lamb and the eating of it recalled that the blood of lambs, smeared on the door-posts, had caused the angel of death to ‘pass over’ the houses of the Israelites without bringing death to their firstborn, whereas it had passed through the houses of the Egyptians, bringing death to their firstborn. The entire feast celebrated then the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian oppression and from death.

PASSOVER CEREMONIES

After the eating of the herbs the Paschal lamb was brought to the table and the head of the family recalled to all the participants in the feast the deliverance of the Chosen People from Egypt. The second cup of wine was then drunk and the lamb was eaten. Then the third cup was drunk and an act of thanksgiving offered to God. This was followed by the drinking of the fourth cup and the singing of the Hallel, which was composed of Psalms CXIII, 8-18, CXIV-CXVII.

THIS WAS NOT SIMPLY AN ORDINARY PASSOVER MEAL

It was at such a Passover meal that Jesus ate with His Apostles for the last time before His death. Yet it was not simply an ordinary Paschal meal, for Jesus was soon to die for men and this last Passover of Jesus on earth was also the beginning of a new sacrifice which would replace the old Passover.

THE DEATH OF JESUS WILL INSTITUTE THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Jesus began the Passover by saying to the Apostles, ‘I have greatly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you that I will eat of it no more, until it has been fulfilled in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 22:15-16). Jesus alludes to His own coming suffering and death. The old Paschal sacrifice of a lamb heralded the deliverance of the Chosen People from slavery and death. The passion and death of Jesus will deliver the human race from the slavery of sin and eternal death. The death of Jesus will institute the Kingdom of God.

THE APOSTLES STILL LACKED UNDERSTANDING OF THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Then Jesus blessed the first cup of wine and said to them, ‘Take this and share it among you; for I say to you that I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God comes’ (Luke 22:17-18). Once again Jesus refers to His own approaching death which will establish the Kingdom of God among men.

This reference to the Kingdom of God excited the Apostles and they began to dispute with one another as to which one would be greatest in the kingdom. To us who know the great solemnity of the moment it is somewhat surprising to find the Apostles disputing about so vainglorious a matter at this time. But the Apostles were still worldly-minded and lacking in understanding of the basically spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus at once moved to enlighten them. ‘The kings of the Gentiles,’ He said to them, ‘lord it over them, and they who exercise authority over them are called Benefactors. But not so with you. On the contrary, let him who is great among you become as the youngest, and him who is the chief as the servant. For which is the greater, he who reclines at table, or he who serves? Is it not he who reclines? But I am in your midst as he who serves. But you are they who have continued me in my trials’ (Luke 22:25-28).

THE MEANING OF THE WASHING OF THE FEET

Then Jesus rose from the supper table and girded Himself with a towel. He poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of His Apostles. Simon Peter at first refused to let Jesus do this for him. Jesus said to him. ‘What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter’ (John 13:7). Peter replied, ‘Thou shalt never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered, ‘If I do not wash thee, thou shalt have no part with me’ (John 13:8). Peter then allowed Jesus to wash his feet.

After Jesus had washed the feet of all the Apostles He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If, therefore, I the Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you also should do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed shall you be if you do them. I do not speak of you all. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled,

‘He who eats bread with me has lifted
up his heel against me.’

I tell you now before it comes to pass, that when it has come to pass you may believe that I am he. Amen, amen, I say to you, he who receives anyone I send, receives me; and he who receives me, receives him who sent me’ (John 13:12-20).

By washing the feet of the Apostles, Jesus, Who was the Lord and Master of the Apostles, sought to teach them the lesson of humility. What makes the lesson even more impressive is the fact that Jesus washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, even though He knew that Judas was about to betray Him.

WHO IS IT?

Then, while they were eating, Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me’ (Mark 14:18).

The Apostles began to wonder which one it might be. Peter asked John who it might be. John asked Jesus. Jesus replied to him, ‘It is he to whom I shall dip the bread, and give it to him’ (John 13:26).

Jesus then dipped bread and gave it to Judas. Then He said to Judas, ‘What thou dost, do quickly’ (John 13:27). Judas departed to betray Jesus. None of the others, except perhaps John and Peter, understood what was taking place. Some thought that Judas was going to execute some errand for Jesus.

‘THIS IS MY BODY’

After the departure of Judas the paschal lamb was brought to the table and the second cup of wine was served. Then Jesus took bread in His hands, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the Apostles, saying, ‘This is my body, which is being given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ Then He took a cup of wine, blessed it and gave it to them, saying, ‘All of you drink this; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins’ (Luke 22:19; Matthew 26:27-28).

AT THIS POINT JESUS HAD DEPARTED FROM THE USUAL PASSOVER CEREMONIAL

This was the most solemn act of the Last Supper. It was not simply a usual part of a Passover meal. At this point Jesus departed from the usual Passover ceremonial. Jesus had already promised to give His followers His own Body to eat and His own Blood to drink. Now He fulfils this promise. At His words bread really becomes His Body and wine really becomes His Blood. Moreover the Body and Blood which Jesus thus offers the Apostles are the Body and Blood which will be separated in death on the Cross at Calvary. This is the Body which shall be given for men and the Blood which shall be shed for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is offering His Body and Blood, His life as a sacrifice for the salvation of all mankind. In so doing He is making a new covenant, a new contract between men and God: ‘this is my blood of the new covenant.’ It was customary among the peoples of the Middle East to seal a covenant in blood. Jesus is now sealing a new covenant between God and man by His own Blood shed for the forgiveness of the sins of all men.

‘DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME’

In addition, this is not a rite to be performed just this once. Jesus intends that this sacrificial offering of His Blood shall continue until the final establishment of His kingdom at the end of time. ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ He says. And St Paul tells us, ‘For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink this chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he comes.’ St Paul referring, of course, to the second coming of Jesus at the end of time to judge all men and institute the eternal Kingdom of God.

THE NEW COVENANT

By telling the Apostles to repeat His own actions in turning bread into His Body and wine into His Blood and to offer this Body and Blood to God as a sacrifice, Jesus made the Apostles priests, empowered by Him to offer the sacrifice of His Body and Blood, and empowered to pass on this tremendous gift to those who would succeed them in the Kingdom of God on earth.

Jesus blesses, or consecrates, the bread and the wine separately. Thus He symbolises by this ritual and mystical separation of His Body and Blood the actual separation which will take place on the next day on the Cross. At this moment Jesus is, if we may so speak, beginning the inauguration of the new pact between God and men which will be sealed on Friday by the actual shedding of His Blood, the offering of His human life for the sins of men.

UNTIL THE SECOND COMING OF JESUS

But this Body and Blood, made mysteriously present under the appearances, the sign of bread and wine, made thus present by the words and the power of Jesus, are not only a sacrifice offered to God. They are also a sacrament, a sacred sign instituted by God to give grace to men. For the Body and Blood thus present under the sign of bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Son of God, the Author of Grace. This is what Jesus meant when He said, ‘He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him’ (John 6:55-57).

‘HE THAT EATETH MY FLESH AND DRINKETH MY BLOOD ABIDETH IN ME AND I IN HIM’

Nor did Jesus, in instituting what we now call the Eucharist, the sacrament and sacrifice of His Body and Blood, cater to any gross cannibalistic understanding of His promise and His action. The eating of His flesh and the drinking of His Blood minister not to the grossly material nourishment of men’s flesh, but rather to the spiritual nourishment of their souls. By receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus His followers attain spiritual union with Him and, through Him, with His Father in heaven.

THE NEW COVENANT BETWEEN GOD AND MEN

In instituting the Eucharist Jesus had begun a new covenant between God and men. That covenant He was to seal on the next day with His Blood. Judas had already gone to make the arrangeements for His betrayal into the hands of His enemies. Jesus knew that the end of His earthly life was near. But He also knew that His apparent humiliation in death was to end in the triumph of His resurrection and ascension into Heaven. So He said to the Apostles, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and, as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so to you also I say it now’ (John 13:31-33).

THE FRUIT YOU WILL BE RECOGNISED BY

But before He ascends to heaven Jesus gives His Apostles a new commandment, a new rule of life, a rule which will enable men to recognise them as the disciples of Jesus: ‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: that as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:34-35).

Because of His love for all men Jesus is about to shed His blood as a propitiation to God for the sins of men. As He Himself had said, no man can have greater love for a friend than to lay down his life for the friend. This is the love which Jesus now commands His followers to exercise toward all men. This all-embracing Christian love will be the distinguishing mark of the follower, the disciple of Jesus.

After giving this wonderful but difficult commandment of love the mind of Jesus turns in sorrow to the thought that His Apostles will fail Him in His hour of trial. ‘You will all be scandalised this night because of me,’ He said; ‘for it is written, ‘I will smite the shepherd, and the flock will be scattered’ (Matthew 26:31). Jesus applies to Himself the prophecy of the prophet Zacharias, ‘O sword… Strike the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered’ (Zacharias [Zechariah] 13:7).

But immediately He gives them a note of hope: ‘But after I have risen, I will go before you into Galilee’ (Matthew 26:32).

‘ALL SHALL BE SCANDALISED’

The Apostles, still not understanding that Jesus must die for the sins of men, and still trusting in His power, protest that they will not desert their Master. Peter is especially vehement in his protestation: ‘Even though all shall be scandalised because of thee, I will never be scandalised’ (Matthew 26:33). Jesus sadly rebuked him for his presumption, saying, ‘Amen I say to thee, this very night, before a cock crows, thou wilt deny me thrice’ (Matthew 26:34).

But Jesus also knows that Peter and the Apostles will repent their failure and will return to Him in faith. And so He says to Peter, ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, strengthen thy brethren’ (Luke 22:31-32).

JESUS PRAYED FOR PETER

Why Jesus chose as His Apostles men who would fail Him in His hour of trial is a question which only God can answer with certainty. What is clear to us in the Gospel story is that Jesus knew that the eleven Apostles would repent of their failure and be all the stronger for it. To make certain this turn of events He prays for Peter. He has already promised to make Peter the foundation stone of His Church. Now He prays that Peter, in spite of his failure in the crucial hour of Jesus, will retain his faith and so be able to strengthen the faith of the others. Because Jesus is the Son of God, the prayer will be heard. The faith of the Apostles will be steadfast because the faith of Peter will be firm.

Peter, even in the face of the warning of Jesus, was obdurate in protesting his courageous loyalty. ‘Even if I should have to die with thee, I will not deny thee’ (Matthew 26:35). The other Apostles joined with him in the same resolution.

DIFFICULTIES AHEAD

Jesus had tried to warn them of their own weakness. They would not listen. He tried once again. He reminded them that when He first sent them out to preach the coming of the Kingdom of God they had lacked nothing, they had been well received in the countryside. But now everything would be changed. He Himself would be regarded as a criminal. He referred to Himself the prophecy of Isaias [Isaiah], ‘And he was reckoned among the wicked.’ His followers would also be so regarded. Catering for the moment to their fiery Galilean spirit He said to them, ‘Let him who has no sword sell his tunic and buy one’ (Luke 22:36).

Jesus was not counselling His Apostles to spread the Kingdom of God by the sword. But He was trying to impress upon them the difficulty they would face in retaining their loyalty to and their faith in Himself.

The Apostles, however, took up the reference to a sword literally and bravely replied, ‘Lord, behold, here are two swords’ (Luke 22:38). What were two swords against the Temple guards or against the Roman might? But Jesus, knowing that His kingdom would grow by grace and faith and not by the sword, replied indulgently, ‘It is enough’ (Luke 22:38).”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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