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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Holy Wednesday

Reading of the Word of God

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

If we die with him, we shall live with him,
if with him we endure, with him we shall reign.

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

Matthew 26, 14-25

Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests

and said, 'What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?' They paid him thirty silver pieces,

and from then onwards he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, 'Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?'

He said, 'Go to a certain man in the city and say to him, "The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples." '

The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he was at table with the Twelve.

And while they were eating he said, 'In truth I tell you, one of you is about to betray me.'

They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, 'Not me, Lord, surely?'

He answered, 'Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me will betray me.

The Son of man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!'

Judas, who was to betray him, asked in his turn, 'Not me, Rabbi, surely?' Jesus answered, 'It is you who say it.'


Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

If we die with him, we shall live with him,
if with him we endure, with him we shall reign.

Praise to you, o Lord, King of eternal glory

The story of Judas’s betrayal always gives rise to feelings of pain and bewilderment. How different he is from Mary, who only a few days earlier had anointed Jesus’ feet with precious oil! Judas sells his teacher for thirty pieces of silver (the price of a slave’s ransom). How bitter are the words that begin the passage of the Gospel we heard today: “One of the twelve!” Yes, one of his closest friends. Jesus had chosen him, loved him, and taken care of him. He had defended him from the attacks of his Pharisaic enemies. And now he is the one who goes to the Pharisees to sell Jesus. Judas’s heart was filled with himself, and maybe it fell into the seduction of violence against Jesus; maybe he was disappointed by a “Messiah” who did not accept becoming a political leader who would lead Israel against the Romans. Maybe Judas’ heart had let itself be seduced by wealth. The distance between him and the Teacher grew until he betrayed him. Jesus himself had said it clearly: “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt 6:24). Judas ended up preferring wealth. And he walked down that road. But what he saw at the end of the road was very different from what Judas thought. Perhaps Judas’s anguish began just when he became worried about figuring out how and when to “hand Jesus over.” And then the moment arrived. It would have coincided with Passover, when the lamb was sacrificed in remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Jesus knows full well what awaits him at Passover, so much so that he says, “My time is near.” Jesus asks his disciples to prepare the Passover meal: a lamb dinner. With this decision, Jesus shows that in truth it is not Judas who “consigns” him to the priests. It is the other way around: it is Jesus himself who “consigns” himself to death out of love for all. Jesus could have left Jerusalem, retreating into the desert. He could have even escaped capture. But he did not. He remained in Jerusalem. And in the evening preceding the night in which God liberated his people from bondage in Egypt; Jesus decided to celebrate the meal in which the Jews remember God’s decision to take possession again of his people. While his disciples are at the table, Jesus interrupts the joyous atmosphere that normally characterizes the meal and speaks openly about his impending betrayal. He announces it, but does not stop it. For his part, there is no desire to escape. Jesus wants only love. If anything, as Scripture says, Jesus can say, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.” The question about love that was asked that evening continues to be asked of every disciple and of every man and woman. Jesus’ passion has not ended. And the need for love arises especially from the poor, the weak, the lonely, the condemned, and the martyrs whose lives are attacked with malice. And we all need to be attentive to distance ourselves from that instinct to betray, which is in the heart of everyone. Judas also that evening, to hide his feelings from the others, dared to say, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Let us ask ourselves about our betrayals, not to be overwhelmed by them, but to bind ourselves all the more to Jesus who continues to take upon his shoulders the sins of the world—even our sins.

Holy Wednesday