Wednesday of Holy Week
(Isaiah 50:4-9a; Matthew 26:14-25)
Humiliation seldom sinks lower than to be spit upon in the face. Spittle may transmit infectious germs. 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 how Jesus fulfills the prophecy of this servant, Matthew’s passion narrative underscores how both Jews and Romans spit upon him. Although the gospel does not accuse Judas of spitting in Jesus’ face, it plainly shows that Judas’ behavior is tantamount to such disgrace. He insults Jesus by calling him “Rabbi,” a title which Jesus expressly forbade his followers to use. More gravely, he hands Jesus over to his enemies for silver.
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 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.