Although all be offended, yet will not I. (St. Mark xiv. 29)
We ought always to remember that our incorporation into the mystical Life of Christ is no easy business. To become a tried and true member of the life of the Crucified One takes time, practice, the development of spiritual discipline, and an ongoing surrender to the Mind of Christ that longs always to remold and remake us. One thing that we learn about the spiritual life this night is that membership in the life of Christ requires vigilance, acuity, or alert. Of all the virtues that protect and defend the spiritual life, that need for watching and waiting is of preeminent importance. Watching and waiting demand, of course, both chasing away evil and embracing virtue. To be vigilant means to be awake, circumspect, alert, cautious, and ready for whatever the devil may throw our way. And what we ought, at all costs, to be prepared for is the devil’s determination to lead us into betrayal and denial of Jesus Christ in our lives.
The supreme act of betrayal is illustrated or pictured for us tonight in the choice and decision of Judas Iscariot. Jesus did not end up being the political liberator whom Judas had trusted would deliver Israel from the rule of Caesar. So he sold Him for thirty pieces of silver. One tradition has it that Judas orchestrated his Master’s arrest so that Jesus might be provoked at last to use His Divine Power to banish the Roman occupiers and to put down the Jewish Sanhedrin, which enjoyed a degree of comfortable cohabitation with their Roman overlords. Judas wanted Jesus to reveal His Divine force or power once and for all in the interests of Israel’s temporal and earthly rehabilitation. Jesus would have nothing to do with such an earthly cause in the interests of the City of Man. So Judas repented, despaired, and finally hanged himself, having failed to achieve his end.
Tonight we are called to be vigilant against the temptation to provoke Jesus Christ to meet our earthy needs, overcome our earthly suffering, pain, and sorrow, and even to banish demons before we have done our part in surrendering to His obedience. We are called too to be awake to the fact that Jesus Christ does not exist primarily for the obtention of earthly prosperity and peace, or comfort and enjoyment. Jesus Christ came to die for the sins of the whole world, and in so doing to bring that old, limited, fallen human nature, alienated from God, to death. In His death Christians find the first beginnings and stirrings of their own death –death to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Tonight we ask ourselves, How have we betrayed Jesus Christ in our lives? Have we sold Him for next to nothing, and thus betrayed Him because we pursue earthly and temporal peace, comfort, accommodation, happiness, and contentment? Have we betrayed Him because we will not allow Him to reign as King Supreme from the soil of our souls and so to guide our footsteps to His Kingdom?
In a similar vein, we must be on guard against that kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that depends upon the repetition of an infinite number of ecstatic or transfiguration moments. Holy Week teaches us that our relation to God hinges upon suffering and death. Our spiritual state in relation to the Father, through Jesus Christ, and by His Holy Spirit, can never be measured solely by feeling, sense, emotion, and passion. It is good for us to experience Him through His distance and absence. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. God often seems to be far away and removed from our spiritual senses because He wants us to learn to fear and obey Him. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the holy is understanding (Prov. ix. 10) The fear of the Lord is that awesome wonder that a man discovers in the presence of a Maker without whom he cannot live and will not be saved. The fear of the Lord then engenders that poverty of spirit that brings a man into self-knowledge of his powerlessness and his own utter dependence upon God for sanctification and salvation. The fear of the Lord then moves a man to obey, to watch, look, ponder, wonder, study, explore, and investigate the ways of God.
This is what St. Peter was missing throughout Christ’s Passion. St. Peter is full of rash, enthusiastic, even premature determination never to be offended by Jesus Christ. And yet what we read is that he falls flat on his face. Not only does he eventually abandon Jesus with the other Apostles, but he actually denies ever having known him. An overly eager, abrupt, impulsive, compulsive, and impetuous relation to Jesus Christ is very dangerous indeed. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the Word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, his faith lasts only for a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, he quickly falls away. (St. Matthew xiii. 20, 21) His faith is not deeply rooted and grounded in the fear of the Lord and obedience. It is, more often than not, unpremeditated, unrestrained, and unthoughtful. It betrays a sense of surface or superficial religion, too close to the body, to pain and pleasure, fear and trepidation, the changes and chances of this fleeting world. It is unstable and uncertain, and in the end, with St. Peter, is as easily swayed to deny the Lord as it was to defend Him heroically to the end.
Tonight we must ask ourselves, How have I denied Jesus Christ? How have my thoughts, words, and deeds denied any familiarity or acquaintance with the Suffering Servant and the Lord of God’s Love? How have I talked the talk but refused to walk the walk up to the place of Love’s new birth on Calvary Hill? How have I failed to accept that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that obedience to His will through Grace leads to true understanding?
Let us pray this night for vigilance. Couldest thou not watch one hour? Watch ye and pray lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. (St. Mark xiv. 37, 38) Let us pray for the fear of the Lord, obedience to His commands, and a determination to follow Him silently and conscientiously, to watch, see, and learn what the Lord of Love will do for us from His Tree of New Life. Amen.