Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Tuesday of Holy Week

Readings: Isaiah 49:1-6; Ps 70; John 13:21-33, 36-38

There is a twofold drama, things happening with meaning at two levels. On one level, the 'human' one, we see how the events of Holy Week affect different characters in the drama and how their own actions cause those events to happen. On another level things are happening 'as it is written', or 'as the scriptures foretold'. What is enacted in these events is not just the political climax of the career of Jesus of Nazareth. Through the messy, unjust, and cruel execution of a good man, things hidden from the foundation of the world are revealed, the mystery of an eternal love that binds the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Today, at the human level, we are presented with a contrast between Peter and Judas. Why does one find his way back to repentance and forgiveness and the other, it seems, does not? The difference is that Peter, even in his sinful betrayal and rejection, continues to look to Christ, remembers Christ, whereas Judas cannot now believe in the possibility of forgiveness.

At this level today's readings may be taken as an encouragement to pray that in our sin we will be like Peter rather than Judas, that we will believe always in the possibility of forgiveness, and that we will not fall into despair or give up hope.

What about the other level, on which the eternal and divine mystery is revealed? How can it be that God's will is achieved in spite of human sinfulness? We have to think of God as an artist or composer in whose work for us our shadows and betrayals are somehow integrated. Fulton Sheen spoke about the bum note sounded by an instrument in the orchestra that can never be unplayed. The only solution is for the composer to take this note and make it the first note in a new movement.

Julian of Norwich wrote that sin is 'behovely', a word that means fitting, appropriate, even convenient. Against the darkness which we create, and even within the darkness we create, the light shines more gloriously. For Julian, sin's fittingness comes from the mercy it calls forth - it allows us to see how deep is God's mercy.

Not that sin is no big deal. Are we to sin that grace might abound, Paul asks. Don't be ridiculous, he says (or words to that effect). Are we to sin so that God can show more mercy, Julian asks. Not at all, she says, to ask that question shows that you have not yet understood what sin is.

Or rather it shows that we have not yet understood what love is, and so are unable to understand the burden we have asked Him to carry. It is love that helps us understand what sin is, not the other way round. Love takes us deeper into the mystery of betrayal, making us sensitive to another's pain, giving us an inkling of the wound sin causes. Judas' efforts are exhausted and neither will Peter have the strength he needs. It becomes clear that we can only know what love is (and so what sin means) if we allow ourselves to be taught by Christ, the one whom the Father glorifies in the darkest night of this world.

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