Monday, April 02, 2007

Two ways

Today's Gospel presents the apostle Judas in a singularly unattractive light by way of preparation for the role he will play in the Lord's arrest on Thursday night. Today we have the banquet at Bethany, where Jesus is the guest of honor (having raised Lazarus of Bethany from the dead). It is six days before Passover--Monday. And Mary, Lazarus' sister, brings in a heavy jar of fabulously expensive perfume and pours it over Jesus' feet.
One thing that doesn't get mentioned in too many commentaries is that in the Bible, the "feet" are sometimes a euphemism for another part of a man's body. Not that Mary isn't actually at the Lord's weary, calloused feet, but the indication is that, yes, this is a gesture of love. Mary is not just the individual person, Mary of Bethany, but a kind of symbol-in-person of the Church as the Bride of Christ. This is what makes Judas' complaint so utterly discordant. "This perfume could have been sold--for a lot of money!!!" It is like the boorish guest at a wedding asking how much the whole thing cost. ("Money can't buy me love, can't buy me lo-ove...")
But if Mary in this story isn't just Mary, Judas isn't just Judas, either. Too many people get worked up about Judas as an individual. We can't really know much about him, because in these Gospel narratives, Judas is also a symbol-in-person (Bible scholars might use the word "typos" or "type" to say that). Judas, along with Peter, represents the "weak" disciple: one who has heard and followed the Lord, but then gone astray--while still following him in a material sense. Remember when Jesus turned on Peter and called him "Satan" for not thinking the way God thinks? Judas here demonstrates the same problem: he is not thinking as God thinks (God is love, after all), but as human beings do (the bottom line).
The Bible is full of passages about the "two ways." One way leads to death, one to life. Remember the Sermon on the Mount and the talk about the "narrow way" that leads to life, while the "broad road" leads to death? Sometimes the theme of the "two ways" is illustrated symbolically: the man who fears the Lord is like a tree planted by a river; the man who does not obey the Lord is like a dry bush in the desert. Two ways. One is life, the other is death.
The gospel takes for granted that we disciples will fail the Lord, but what then? There are two ways of repenting! In the passion narratives, of which today's Gospel offers the first foreboding, Peter and Judas are not just Peter and Judas. They are images of the "two ways." And the whole point the Bible is making is not "And where are Peter and Judas now???" but, "Now, which way will you choose?"


Anonymous said...

It is very comforting to be able to have that "What now?" realize that a mistake has been made and have a second chance to make it right. Almost like kids playing and calling for a "do-over."

Anonymous said...

Would someone please forward this blog entry to Mel Gibson.