In traditional Lenten terminology, today was called “Spy Wednesday.” A glance at our Gospel passage explains this: it describes uncovering the only “spy” among the twelve apostles. In naming him, Jesus uses the same word Judas had used in going to the High Priests: “betrayal”. Few men are more universally despised throughout history than “traitors,” and few do as much to destroy the trust essential for good human interaction.
Ironically, the rest of the twelve would turn out to be not much better than Judas. None of them had the courage to stick by Jesus once he was arrested. Peter betrayed him three times, under oath; the rest made themselves scarce to avoid any sign of complicity with a man condemned as a criminal. We need to be careful about judging them harshly: how many of us would have done any differently – or have done any differently — when put to a similar test, terrified by similar danger? How different are we from Judas Iscariot, the spy?
Perhaps in only one way, but a crucial one: so far we have been able to tell God we’re sorry for our betrayals, whether small or large. Judas’ fatal sin was not to be able to do that. Our repentance has saved us, not our antecedent courage in temptation.
On this late day in Lent, I turn to God not with pride of achievement, but in humble gratitude for the forgiveness my weakness has found. And with a heartfelt prayer that I may never again find myself a “spy” in Jesus’ company – or at least that, if I do, I may quickly beg the same forgiveness. For that, Lord Jesus, I place my trust in you!.
—Fr. John J. O’Callaghan, S.J. is senior chaplain for the health sciences division at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood IL.