Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 50:4-9a; Matthew 26:14-25)

Humiliation seldom sinks lower than to have another spit in one’s face. Spittle may transmit disease. More than that, spitting is a universal sign of contempt. The Book of Deuteronomy instructs a widow whose brother-in-law will not fulfill his obligation to marry her for the sake of his dead brother to “spit in his face” (Deut. 25:9). The action is meant to show that the man is like selfish, low-lying scum.

In the first reading today the Suffering Servant speaks of giving his face to be spit upon. Conscious of this reference, Matthew’s passion narrative underscores how both Jews and Romans spit upon Jesus. Although the gospel does not say that Judas spits in Jesus’ face, it indicates that Judas’ behavior is tantamount to such disgrace. He insults Jesus by calling him “Rabbi” since Jesus expressly forbade his followers to use that title. More gravely, he accepts money for handing Jesus over to his enemies.

Jesus’ humiliation in Matthew’s passion narrative is part of the price that he pays for human disobedience. Only perfect obedience could heal the fracture between God and humanity related in the story of Adam and Eve’s sin and reflected in each of our sins. Jesus carries out God’s will – that he be handed over to his enemies -- which causes him to suffer extreme humiliation, intense pain, and finally brutal death. For this sacrifice he deserves more than our thanks and admiration. He merits our imitation and allegiance.