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JUDAS AND PETER WITHIN US

March 16, 2014

Dear Friends:

It’s late at night, The dwellers of the Holy City, Jerusalem, are celebrating (or will be celebrating the next day, depending on whom one reads) the great Feast, Passover. There is a bit of turmoil: there are Temple police coming and going, there is agitation among some of the city dwellers, and the Temple police return from their incursion into the Mount of Olives dragging behind them, safely bound, Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, the wandering prophet from Nazareth.

But there is more. Running madly down two parallel streets, heading outside the city, are two men: one of them, Judas, the Iscariot, one of the Twelve whom Jesus had chosen, eyes contorted with pain and despair, seems oblivious to a quiet voice within him, inviting him to return, to stop this mad-dash centrifugal running from the font of salvation, whom he has betrayed for 30 coins, and receive the sweet balm of forgiveness. But Judas does not listen, keeps running, and at the end of his run, there will be a tree and a rope hanging from it (Mtt 27: 3-5).

The other man is Peter, the Rock, Simon Peter, Cephas, upon whom Jesus has entrusted the mission of confirming his brothers and sisters in the faith, But at the moment, Peter is running as madly as Judas: he, called to be the spiritual leader of the Twelve, has done something unthinkable: he has denied Jesus ((Mk 14: 66-72; Mtt 26: 69-75; Lk 22: 56-62; Jn 18: 16-8, 25-27). There can be no forgiveness, he feels. At the crucial moment, he, of all people, has denied the very wellspring of salvation, But, Peter suddenly stops. Like Judas, he has heard the same whisper, inviting him to return, to change this centrifugal dash of desperation into a centripetal walk back of forgiveness. Peter listens, and Peter weeps (Mk 14: 72), and his tears wash away his sin.

Judas Iscariot is a fascinating biblical figure, and a bit of an enigma, We do not really know where the name “Iscariot” came from: perhaps from the Hb. is kariot, “man of Cariot,” or the Aramaic, isqarya, “the untrue one,” or maybe from the Greek, sikarios, “a killer for hire.” Judas Iscariot’s name appears mentioned in the Gospels 14 times, 9 of which are followed by the somber and opprobrious qualification: “(the one) who betrayed him.” Such a tragic way to be remembered by history!: “Judas, the one who betrayed him.” My name, Sixto, in fact, all our names, appear in many professional, parish or social lists (i.e., the Seminary Faculty catalogue, the phone directory, associated in conversation with this or that parish or ministry group, as so-and-so’s friend). I have shared with friends and colleagues how unspeakably depressed I would be if, in all these lists, my name would be appended as “Sixto, the one who betrayed Jesus,” if that came to be the defining point of my life.

Yet, I have been unfaithful to Jesus, I have, in a manner of speaking, betrayed Jesus: whenever I have denied someone an encouraging smile, a word of love and hope, anytime I have closed my heart to human suffering and anguish . . . We all, in one fashion or other, might deserve to have appended to our names: Sixto, Joe, Mario, Sandy, Ralph, Frank, Toni, David, whatever, “the one who betrayed Jesus.”

The poor, the hungry, the unborn, the excluded, the ill-clad, those whom society regards as useless, unproductive, burdensome, inferior, despicable, the immigrant, the stranger, encounter us along the pathways of our lives, and, in their faces ridden with uncertainty, fear and anguish, speaking to us with fire in the eyes and judgment in the voice, Jesus begs: “Give me to eat, give me to drink, welcome me!” But are we not often bothered by them? Is our comfortable, pliant, arrogant, opulent, vertical Christianity not shaken and convulsed to its very roots when we meet these reminders of our foundational documents, the Sermon in the Mount, and the parable of the ultimate criterion for salvation, Mtt 25: 31-46: “For I was hungry . . . for I was a stranger . . . ?”

Why, Jesus, why do you have to be so difficult, so demanding, so exasperating? Look at what you did: you drove Judas into suicide. Why do you have to remind me, us, all of us, that the poor, the ill-clad, the unclean, the unborn, the prisoners, the undocumented, the refugees, the excluded, the marginalized and despised, the homeless, are also my brothers and sisters? Why did you (ah, here Judas whispers such eloquent words!) not preach a comfortable Gospel, one that would allow us to ignore misery and suffering, a “nice guy” Gospel, a Valium to my daily anxieties, a Dear Abby proclamation from the Mount of the Beatitudes? Why do I have to embrace those who seem to defy the dress codes of our 10 AM Sunday morning Mass, when ushers are required (!!!) to come dressed to kill, jacket and tie, when lectors are supposed to be clad in their finest to proclaim the Scriptures given to us by he who only wore a coarse tunic, who was born, and ultimately died naked, alone and despised?

Worse still: Are you asking me to welcome and embrace the undocumented, those illegal trekkers of red-hot deserts, who carry their own bottles of water and are often forced, in unspeakable agony, to watch the death by thirst of their 5-year-old, who gasps his last in a futile begging for water? They are illegal, are they not? They do not belong in my parish. We will not accept the dregs of society here: let them cross back to wherever they came from. . . (are we carefully listening to Judas within us?)

But it’s worse, much worse than that: they remind me of my sin, my selfishness, of the futility, the hypocrisy and the lie of my lukewarm, comfortable, snug, relaxed, unstressed, vertical, pliant faith (are we still carefully listening to Judas within us?). They remind me that Jesus did not come amongst us to win popularity contests, that the Gospel is not a handbook for people-pleasers, where everybody can find something to their pleasure, but a journey, a demanding journey, bearing the Cross of Jesus as the sine qua non requirement of discipleship (are we paying close attention to Judas within us?).

The Church, as the community of communion whose head is a despised Galilean wanderer, requires no documents, no dress code, no minimum bank account balance, no ability to laugh at asinine jokes spoken from the pulpit as a brutal prostitution of the prophetic demands of the Gospel, as so many crafty ways our preachers have today of zig-zagging around the mine field of the dangerous words of Jesus (like you did, Judas, did you not?).

We all have something of Judas within us. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Judas, in despair, hanged himself (Mtt 27: 3-5). But he still dwells among us, telling us that our faith ought to be more practical, more comfortable, more relaxed, more opulent – above all, free and void of conflict. Why not, he says to us, eviscerate from the Gospel that super-inconvenient text about bearing our crosses after him(Mk 8: 34)?

But we also have much of Peter within us: Peter, the impetuous, the big-mouthed dispenser of braggadocio, but, unlike Judas, an open and innocent heart. Let us remember, as we said above: he also sinned gravely: he denied Jesus. But he did something that Judas, in arrogant despair (how come I, of all people, could do this to Jesus?) could not: he wept, he felt the bitterness of his sin of cowardice sweetened by the benison of Jesus’ love. And, not long after, by the shores of the sea where he had originally encountered Jesus, he will be asked by the Risen One, thrice: “Peter, do you love me?” Peter prevails: because he wept, he was forgiven, and confirmed as the Rock, upon which the Church is meant to stand, the witness Church, the “poor Church of the poor” (Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel,” 198). Peter did not the “globalization of indifference” present in his own time, to “rob him of the capacity to weep” (Pope Francis, Homily at Lampedusa, July 8, 2013).

Lent is a privileged time to pray for the ability to weep for the suffering of others, and for the prophetic daring to surrender our lives, totally, without stint, to the least of the least, to the privileged ones of Jesus.

Oremus pro invicem

Sixto

AT THE SUNSET OF OUR LIVES, WE
WILL BE JUDGED BY LOVE
St. John of the Cross
“Sayings of Light and Love,” 59
WE WILL NEVER LOVE ENOUGH
Bl. Charles de Foucauld
Letter to Marie de Bondy,
December 1, 1916,
The day of his Martyrdom
BLOG: https://sixtogarcia.wordpress.com/

Sixto
AT THE SUNSET OF OUR LIVES, WE
WILL BE JUDGED BY LOVE
St. John of the Cross
“Sayings of Light and Love,” 59
WE WILL NEVER LOVE ENOUGH
Bl. Charles de Foucauld
Letter to Marie de Bondy,
December 1, 1916,
The day of his Martyrdom
BLOG: https://sixtogarcia.wordpress.com/

Sixto
AT THE SUNSET OF OUR LIVES, WE

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