Apr 12, 2022: Tuesday of Holy Week

1st Reading – Isaiah 49:1-6

Hear me, O coastlands,
listen, O distant peoples.
The LORD called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.
For now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

This reading is taken from the second of four “Servant of the Lord” oracles in Isaiah, also known as the Servant Songs. They poetically describe a servant that will bring people to an awareness of God’s power, justice, and love.

This passage was written in the time of the Babylonian exile (587-537 BC). The Israelites are suffering and disillusioned. They had thought that their king, their kingdom, and their temple would be secure forever. Now the temple is destroyed, the kingdom is no more, and the population is living in exile in Babylon. What happened to God’s promise to love and protect the chosen people? What could all of this mean?

Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant peoples.

The proclamation is addressed to many peoples across distant lands. This possibly indicates universalism, but later verses show that the tribes of Israel are being gathered, suggesting that this is a summons to Israelites that have been scattered as a result of the exile.

The LORD called me from birth,

God often sets the vocation of his chosen ones before their birth. Examples include Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), Jesus (Luke 1:31), and Saint Paul (Galatians 1:15).

from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.

“Gave me my name” may indicate consecration for a special office, as in Jeremiah 1:5. He has been formed in the womb precisely for this mission.

He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me.

The servant was made ready and fit for the preaching of God’s word. His prophetic message will be sharp, cutting — but he is hidden by God until the appropriate time arrives.

You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory.

The actual identity of the servant is unclear and long the topic of debate among scholars. Being named in his mother’s womb seems to indicate an individual person (perhaps Isaiah himself), but this explicit mention of Israel as the servant seems to refer to the entire nation. However, the later mention of Israel in verse 5 seems to distinguish the servant from Israel, so some regard the word “Israel” here as a gloss.

Regardless of the specific identity of the servant, these are words of intense hope. The exiles are being assured that they are still God’s people, they haven’t been forgotten, and there is a purpose to their present suffering.

The chosen people, spoken of as a single person, have been God’s chosen people since before their birth.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God.

Although the people may feel that their suffering has been in vain, this is not true. God is going to use the suffering of the people to accomplish something wonderful. Through Israel’s suffering, Israel will be brought back to the Lord, and as we will see, Israel will become a light to the nations.

For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him;

Recall that God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 35:10). Both refer to the nation of God’s chosen people. By referring to an in-gathering of Israel, the passage presumes that the people are scattered.

Here, the servant seems to be distinguished from Israel — because if the servant is Israel, how can the servant nation have a mission to bring itself back to itself?

That being said, most commentators urge us to lay aside the search for the servant’s exact identity and focus instead on his characteristics and his mission:

  • The servant has been chosen by God, who loves him most specially,
  • He has all the main qualities of a prophet, and
  • He must gather and influence his compatriots so as to enlighten them.

and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength!

The spectacular return of the scattered exiles and their re-establishment as a people will be seen as the work of God; the accomplishment of the mission will make the servant glorious in the sight of the Lord.

It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel;

The twelve tribes of Israel were named after the sons of Jacob. It was these tribes who settled the Promised Land after the exodus from Egypt.

I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

A mission that began as the restoration of one nation has been broken open to include the salvation of all. This is a fulfillment of the promise to Abram in Genesis 12:3: All the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.

It is remarkable that a nation struggling with its own survival after being defeated at the hands of a powerful enemy should have a God concerned with the salvation of all, presumably including the nation at whose hands it suffered — yet this is exactly what “a light to the nations” suggests.

Psalm 71: 1-6, 15, 17

R. I will sing of your salvation.

Today’s responsorial psalm comes from Psalm 71, a prayer that pleads for assistance with enduring hope in the Lord.

In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.

The psalm begins with a prayer that the psalmist might never be made ashamed of his dependence upon God nor disappointed by his hope in him.

In your justice rescue me, and deliver me; incline your ear to me, and save me. Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety, for you are my rock and my fortress. O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.

Having placed his trust in God, he pleads for God’s help and to be rescued from his enemies.

For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength.

The psalmist proclaims his confidence in God, acknowledging that God has been his protector since childhood, even at his birth, and throughout his life.

My mouth shall declare your justice, day by day your salvation. O God, you have taught me from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.

In an ecstasy of joyful praise, the psalmist promises to bear witness to the amazing things God has done for him.

Gospel – John 13: 21-33, 36-38

Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.
One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved,
was reclining at Jesus’ side.
So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant.
He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him,
“Master, who is it?”
Jesus answered,
“It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.”
So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas,
son of Simon the Iscariot.
After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.
So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.
Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him,
“Buy what we need for the feast,”
or to give something to the poor.
So Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.

When he had left, Jesus said,
“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 he will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
You will look for me, and as I told the Jews,
‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?”
Jesus answered him,
“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,
though you will follow later.”
Peter said to him,
“Master, why can I not follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me?
Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow
before you deny me three times.”

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus foretells both the treachery of Judas and the desertion of the rest of the disciples.

Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

Jesus’ sadness is proportionate to the gravity of the offense he foretells. Judas was one of those whom Jesus chose to be an apostle: he had been on intimate terms with him for three years, he had followed him everywhere, he had seen his miracles, had heard his divine teaching, and experienced the tenderness of his affection.

Despite all this, when the moment of truth comes, Judas will not only abandon the Master but will betray him and sell him out.

Judas had already decided to hand Jesus over and had made arrangements with the chief priests (Matthew 26:14; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-6). Temptation had been burrowing its way into Judas’ heart for some time back, as we saw in yesterday’s reading at the anointing in Bethany when he protested against Mary’s loving gesture. Saint John commented in that connection that Judas protested not out of love for the poor but because he was a thief (John 12:6).

Jesus foretells this betrayal to the Apostles in advance so that when they see Christ’s predictions come true, they will realize he has divine knowledge and that in him are fulfilled the Scriptures of the Old Testament (John 2:22, 13:19).

The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant. One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side. So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant. He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?”

The “disciple whom Jesus loved” is Saint John’s way of referring to himself.

In Jesus’ time, on important occasions the customary thing was to eat reclining on a kind of divan called a triclinium. The diner rested on his left elbow and ate with his right hand. This meant it was easy to lean on the person on one’s left and talk to him without people hearing.

Here we can see the intimacy and trust that existed between Jesus and John (see also John 19:27, 20:2, 21:23), a model of Jesus’ love for all his true disciples and of theirs for their Master.

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot.

The morsel which Jesus offers Judas is a sign of friendship and, therefore, an invitation to him to give up his evil plotting.

After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.

Judas rejects the chance he is offered.

“What Judas received is good, but he received it to his own perdition, because he, being evil, received in an evil manner what is good” (Saint Augustine, In Ioann. Evang., 61, 6).

Satan entering him means that from that moment Judas gave in completely to the devil’s temptation.

So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

Jesus demonstrates that he has full knowledge of what Judas intends to do.

Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him. Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or to give something to the poor.

“These details have been recorded that we may not bear ill will against those who wrong us, but may reproach them and weep over them. Indeed, not those who are wronged, but those who do wrong deserve our tears. For the covetous man and the slanderer, and the man guilty of any other wrong-doing injure themselves most of all” (Saint John Chrysostom, Homily on Saint John, 71, 4).

So Judas took the morsel and left at once. 

Having been exposed, Judas flees.

The revelation that Jesus knows our hearts need not cause us to run and hide, but to move deeper into the safety of his company. If only Judas had cried out at the very moment: Kyrie, eleison! Christe, eleison!  Instead, tragically, he distanced himself from Jesus.

His departure sets into motion the machinery of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution. There is no going back now. The die is cast; the events of salvation are about to begin. The hour of eschatological fulfillment has come.

And it was night.

This is not just a reference to the time of day but to darkness as an image of sin, an image of the power of darkness whose hour was beginning at that very moment (Luke 22:53).

When he had left, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.

While it looks like only suffering and death are on the horizon, this is in fact the moment of glorification. Lifted up in ignominy, Jesus will really be lifted up in glory, for surrender, death, resurrection, and exaltation are really all one event. Jesus is in complete control.

If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once.

Having announced that this is the hour of his own glorification, Jesus explains how it is also the hour of the glorification of God. The Son of Man is glorified both in his own willingness to obey God even unto death, and in the fact that God will glorify him by making his sacrifice effective for the salvation of all.

Glorification does not cancel suffering. Rather, it is precisely at the moment of his being lifted up on the cross that Jesus will be lifted up in glory. Jesus’ willingness to suffer also glorifies God, for it reveals the extent of Jesus’ love for God and God’s love for humankind. This mutual glorification flows from the intimate relationship that exists between God and the Son of Man.

My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.”

Jesus addresses the remaining eleven apostles with affection and tenderness.

Only a short time remains before Jesus will depart from them. If they any question or final thoughts remain on their hearts, now is the time.

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.” Peter said to him, “Master, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Once again Peter in his simplicity and sincerity tells his Master that he is ready to follow him even to the point of dying for him. But he is not yet ready for that.

Peter certainly meant what he said, but his resolution was not very solid. Later on he will develop a fortitude based on humility; then, not considering himself worthy to die in the way his master did, he will die on a cross, head downwards.

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.”

Peter’s denials, which are signs of his weakness, were amply compensated for by his profound repentance.

“Let everyone draw from this example of contrition, and if he has fallen let him not despair, but always remember that he can become worthy of forgiveness” (Saint Bede, In Ioann. Evang. Expositio).

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