April 8: I Spy

Not Holy Wednesday, in case you were guessing.  Spy Wednesday is today in the Great Week.  Egeria provides the answer why.  Following the same worship schedule like the past two days, Bishop Cyril, after the evening worship and blessing in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher’s main nave or sanctuary, which Egeria called the Martyrium, led the assembly with singing a short way underneath the Rotunda to the tomb of Jesus.  There, again by candlelight, he read from the portion of Matthew’s Gospel narrating Judas negotiating the price and logistics of betraying Jesus to the Jewish authorities before Passover.  See Matthew 26:3-16, and yes, again I will read this tonight at 9 PM by candlelight here at the rectory.  I love seeing Cyril’s creative liturgical signature through Egeria’s narrative.  He is placing the assembly at the very locations Jesus visited during his tumultuous final few days in Jerusalem.  Brilliant!

While the day’s nickname comes from Judas of course; Egeria records the poignant reaction of the assembly to the gospel narrative thus: The people groan and lament at this reading in a way that would make you weep to hear them.  But for me, the real action lies in juxtaposing Judas with the unnamed (at least in the Matthean account, as in John’s Gospel she is Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus) woman who models the most shocking, provocative and sensuous act of unrestrained love in the gospels absent the Nativity and Crucifixion.  She shatters a sealed ampulla of oil at Jesus feet, soaking them, and then bathes and wipes his feet with her long hair.  Uh do we get a PG-13 rating here?!  Amazing this story made it past the prudish and patriarchal scriptural editors much less the “coal to diamond” Victorian crowd!  Anybody hit you up with that moment lately, any part of which would get me swiftly defrocked today if attempted?!

So, to review, Matthew, Cyril and Egeria provide us with a beautiful reflection, not disconnected from yesterday’s deep dive, concerning who is really faithful and who may appear faithful but instead is spiritually traitorous.  Judas, a model disciple entrusted with the group funds, sells out Jesus and his fellow disciples for roughly $3,000.00, about the price to purchase a 1st century slave.  Judas is universally reviled as history’s famous traitor, hanging himself when overcome with guilt over his monstrous act.  Unnamed woman, or Mary of Bethany, is estimated to have poured oil valued over $54,000.00 on Jesus’ feet.  For this completely gobsmacking act of love, Jesus pays her a compliment found nowhere else in the New Testament: Everywhere the Good News is proclaimed, she will be forever remembered.  Your choice?

  1. Join me tonight reading this Matthean passage.  Let’s remember Ignatius of Loyola’s preferred bible study method of placing ourselves in the story, which for these passages is a fantastic way to engage the text!  Concentrate upon Jesus, and Judas, and Mary.  What do you smell, see and hear?
  2. Can we identify the Judas within ourselves, the self which professes great loyalty to Jesus and then sells out our faith for peanuts before feeling tremendous guilt?  Can we identify the Mary within ourselves, the self which lavishes unrestrained affection upon Jesus and those we love?
  3. How does this day, this passage, this reflection, prepare us for the interior of the Great Week which is nearly upon us?!

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