Commentary on the Gospel of

Tom Purcell - Creighton University's Heider College of Business

Holy Week, 2020, and a pandemic rages across the world.  Go back 102 years to April, 1918 (Easter was on March 31 that year) and the inception of what would become the world-wide flu pandemic. An April public health document reported 18 severe flu cases and 3 deaths in Haskell, Kansas.  Armies of U.S. soldiers were preparing to and in fact deploying to France during the spring and summer, social distancing was not widespread, and deaths spiked significantly in the U.S., especially on the east coast.  As I write this reflection, we are anticipating very high death rates in the U.S.  I hope that you are as safe as can be in these distressing times.


The gospel today speaks to me of grace and forgiveness when confronted with betrayal.  I don’t know how much Jesus really knew would happen to Him in the twenty-four hours following His supper with the apostles, but He certainly had strong premonitions that the powers in Jerusalem were not pleased, and that their displeasure usually resulted in grave consequences for the target of their ire.  He observes that His appointed time is near, and that one of His companions would be a betrayer.  From Matthew’s telling, the disciples seemed more distressed at this news than does Jesus, but I find it interesting that their distress was not that one of their companions was a betrayer, but rather that one of them might be falsely branded as the culprit.  They do not ask “Lord why do you think you will be betrayed?” or “Shall we move you to a place of safety from this betrayal?” Nor did they organize themselves to protect Him.  Instead each ask in turn if he is the guilty party.  Wouldn’t they know if they were the betrayer?

One powerful form of prayer in the Spiritual Exercises is to place oneself in a setting, to imagine interacting with the parties in the story, and to observe the participants and one’s own reactions.  When I do that, I can see Jesus interact with Judas.  I can see in His gaze the complex emotions He must have felt – His look of pain, of utter disappointment, coupled with a transcending spirit of understanding, love and forgiveness.  I also see the look in Judas’ eyes as he suddenly understands the depth of his actions, the incredible hurt that he sees Jesus experience, and the sinking realization of how wrong he has been, and what the coming consequences of his actions will be. 

And then I reflect on my own life, and ask:  How many times have I betrayed Jesus by my actions, my neglect, my selfishness, my indifference, my inability to respond with charitable love when I am harmed by someone?  Have I observed and understood the look in Jesus’ eyes when He sees me, and what I have done to betray Him?  How shameful am I that I have caused Jesus to feel pain, and disappointment?  Why is it that I can’t keep from causing Him pain again, and again, and again, as my human failings outweigh my good intentions to live up to what Jesus calls me to do?

And then I feel the wonder, the mystery, the incredible joy of knowing that Jesus understands my humanity and all my shortcomings, still loves me in spite of the hurt I have caused Him, that He has forgiven me, has soothed my heart, has told me to try again to do what He asks, to learn from my betrayals, to become better in Him.  I know I likely will betray Him again, but for the moment, I feel at peace because He has touched me with a healing word, a look in His eye, a soothing of my inner being.

And so, my prayer today is to be ever mindful of how I have and can and will continue to betray Jesus, and for the grace and strength to avoid betrayals by being the person God calls me to be.


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