Of Betrayals and Denials

John 13: 21-33, 36-38
Is 49: 1-6/ Ps 71: 1-6, 15 and 17

Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.
(John 13:38)

God tempers our fidelity
In the fire of tests and trials.
He’ll turn to good all inequities,
Even betrayals and denials.

Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Amen, amen, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain about whom He was speaking. One of His disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to Him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom He was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked Him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I give this morsel when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when He had dipped the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the morsel of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at the table knew why He said this to him. Some thought that since Judas held the money bag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast”, or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out. And it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in Him. If God has been glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself and will glorify Him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” (John 13:21-33,36-38)

Reflection

As the time drew near for the culmination of His mission, Jesus gathered the twelve apostles for the Passover meal. But before they ate the meal, He washed their feet as His last lesson on the essential meaning of leadership (as servanthood). Then He dispatched Judas to proceed with his scheme of betrayal. After Judas had left, Jesus told them that He would be leaving them soon, Immediately, Peter reacted (as he always did), asking why he could not follow Him, even pledging to lay down his life for Him. But Jesus knew his heart, and predicted, “Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows you will have denied me three times.”

That last meal shared with His friends before His passion and death must have been the saddest experience in the life of our Lord. He knew that He was going to be betrayed by one of them. Then, another whom He had anointed to be their leader would reveal his cowardice, and deny His friendship consecutively for three times, barely a few hours after pledging that he would lay down his life for Him.

Judas has come to symbolize the height of treachery, which tragically drove him to the unpardonable sin of despair. He was no doubt a friend of Jesus, especially chosen by the Master to be the group’s treasurer. How could Judas betray such a sacred confidence and a friend like Jesus? And then Peter, whom He had exalted as the rock upon which He would build His Church– how could he jeopardize this position that Jesus bequeathed to him as the apostles’ leader, declaring his loyalty to the end for all to hear, and then denying he knew Jesus at the first sign of danger?

The case of Judas shows us how wicked a person can become because of money. But aren’t we all in danger of becoming a little like Judas whenever we put the pursuit of money (our business) above our concern to become closer to Jesus and the Father? How many stall owners in malls and markets close shop on Sundays? There too may also be a bit of Peter’s cowardice in us whenever we hesitate to stand up for Jesus or the Gospel when our friends start criticizing Church doctrines or our Catholic beliefs. How easily we justify our denials by saying we just don’t want to offend our friends.

Father, stir us when we hesitate to stand up for Jesus or His Word in our workplaces and our fellowships. Disturb our conscience should we start to sacrifice our moral values for the sake of material gain. Prevent us from ever denying Jesus. Amen.

Stark Contrasts

John 12: 1-11
Isa 42:1-7 / Ps 27:1-3,13-14

You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.
(John 12:8)

Darkness and light, sunshine and rain,
Life’s a journey of joy and sorrow;
Laugh away tears, bear with the pain:
There will always be hope tomorrow.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Lazarus’ house in Bethany, where a dinner was given in His honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. Mary took out a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of Him but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in Him. (John 12: 1-11)

Reflection

On the way to fulfilling His destiny in Jerusalem, Jesus decided to spend His precious last moments with the friends He loved most: Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. They prepared a feast for Him and His apostles. Martha personally attended to His meal, and Mary brought out the most expensive ointment to anoint Him as Messiah and King. But in the midst of love and merriment, there will always be a fly in the ointment: Judas and the chief priests. If the three siblings represented love, true fellowship, caring and the reincarnated life, Judas and the religious leaders represented greed, hypocrisy, envy, hatred and death.

Today’s Gospel is a scene of stark contrasts, displaying the best and the worst in men. Mary’s act of genuine love for Jesus elicited a response of false charity for the poor from Judas. The fragrance of the perfume filled the air, but so did the vile odor of envy and hatred from the chief priests, who plotted the death of Jesus and Lazarus. The irony is not lost on us that in the midst of the festivities, in the presence of the person He brought back to life, Jesus would predict His own death by saying, “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”

The culmination of Lent brings us face to face with the reality that life here on earth will always be a dichotomy. As sure as night follows day, and vice versa, after the joys and merriment comes the inevitability of parting and sorrow. Love is present, but hatred lurks not far behind. If we have the light of truth, it is almost certain that there is also a shadow of hypocrisy. And as we enter the seeming darkness of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can only thank God for the hope that these will also bring forth His victorious Resurrection, and our promised salvation.

Help us, Father God, to prepare ourselves in commemorating the passion and death of Your Beloved Son, as befits His faithful followers, in penance and mortification, and in genuine love for “the poor who will always be with us.” Amen.

Fulfillment of the Prophecy

John 11: 45-56
Ez 37:21-28 / Jer 31:10-13

…it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may be saved.
(John 11:50)

Many things may not be understood,
Such is the mystery of God’s plan;
But all things will work out for the good,
The reason why Jesus became man.

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to kill him. So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews, but he left for the region near the desert, to a town called Ephraim, and there he remained with his disciples. Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before Passover to purify themselves. They looked for Jesus and said to one another as they were in the temple area, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?” (John 11:45-56)

Reflections

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, this news was brought to the Pharisees, who, together with the chief priests convened the Sanhedrin. This was the last straw. The motive of the religious leaders was political, and for them even noble, but without realizing it, their evil plot was actually working into the plan of a much greater design.

The Jewish leaders were so short-sighted. Worried about their positions of authority, they failed to see that Jesus, Who raised a man from the dead could only be God Himself walking in their midst. Instead, they took matters into their own hands and plotted to kill the Messiah, that their Scriptures had been prophesying all along. Caiaphas, the high priest, predicted that Jesus had to die for the nation, but the death of Jesus did not prevent the Romans from eventually destroying Jerusalem. It did however fulfill the prophecy of the prophet Ezekiel (first reading). “Thus says the Lord God: I will take the children of Israel from among the nations to which they have come, and gather them to bring them back to their land. I will make them one nation” (Ezek.37:21). It also brought about the prophecy of Jeremiah, (Resp. Psa.) who said, “He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together, he guards them as a shepherd his flock” (Jer.31:10). Jesus Himself said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn. 12:32). All of these predictions fulfilled the covenant that Yahweh God gave to His people. No greater covenant of love was accomplished than the death of His own Beloved Son on the cross in Calvary.

As we prepare for Palm Sunday, and the coming Passion of our Lord Jesus, let us reflect on the covenant that we have made with Him. Realizing the depth of His love, Who willingly accepted pain and death for our sins, let us ask ourselves if we have willingly sacrificed our own comforts for the sake of those in need.

Lord, may we always be ready to set aside our comfortable lives to follow Your will, to willingly suffer for others, that we may also share in Your victory and glory. Amen.

The Divine in Man

John 10: 31-42
Jer 20: 10-13 / Psa 18

Is it not written in your law, “I said, you are gods”?
(John 10:34)

To everyone reverence is due,
As each person has something divine;
So our actions and words must be true,
According to God’s will and design.

The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus said, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.’ Jesus answered, ‘Is it not written in your law,* “I said, you are gods”? If those to whom the word of God came were called “gods”—and the scripture cannot be annulled— can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, “I am God’s Son”? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand* that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’ Then they tried to arrest Him again, but He escaped from their hands. He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and He remained there. Many came to Him, and they were saying, ‘John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.’ And many there believed in Him. (John 10:31-42)

Reflection

Jesus cited Psalm 82:6, “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High…’ to counter the charge of blasphemy against Him. Although He was really telling the truth that He was the Son of God, He did not impose His will on the Jews because He wanted them to believe according to the wonders that they had seen Him perform. But they were too proud to set aside their traditional monotheistic belief to accept His claim that He was really their Messiah, God Incarnate, Who had come to share His divinity with men.

Every person has God within him, because we are not only made in His image and likeness, but by Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been made one with Him as children of God, and inheritors of His kingdom in heaven as well. What an awesome thought! And yet, if we ponder deeply on the matter, we are truly gods in the way God designed our existence. As Scriptures say, God made us “a little less than a god, …crowned with glory and splendor… made lord over the work of His hands, … set all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5-6). If God did not endow us with such reverence, would He have taken all the trouble to humble Himself, be shamed and tortured and die for our sake? That’s how precious we are in God’s eyes. So how come we can’t accord the same kind of regard and respect for our fellow human beings? How come we find it so easy to throw stones of insults, threats, or unfair judgments at those who are different from us, or just because we consider them below our station?

There was a public uproar over a Hong Kong columnist’s demeaning and racist statement about the Philippines being a “nation of servants”. This shows how much we value our dignity as a people. And yet the same newspaper carried accounts of hundreds of unsolved killings happening in our country, as well as hundreds of minors being driven to prostitution. How do we find the sacred and the godly in this environment? There is something very wrong with our country, and we must fervently pray for God’s intervention to help bring us back to His will and design.

Help us, dear God to draw closer to You, so that our every thought, word and act may conform to your Will, and we may be worthy to receive Your beloved Son into our lives. Amen.

God’s Word, Jesus is Life

John 8: 51-59
Gen 17:3-9 / Psa 105

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.
(John 8:51)

Our Life is like a drop of water
In the ocean of eternity.
If we want to live forever,
God’s Word will guide our destiny.

(Jesus said), Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” At this the Jews exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” At this, the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham!” Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:51-59)

Reflection

I suppose it was practically impossible for the Jews to accept the claim of Jesus that Yahweh God was His Father, and that He existed long before Abraham was born. The Judaic religion had always been monotheistic, upholding the belief that there is only one God, in contrast to the pagans who believed in the existence of several gods. Most of them had regarded Jesus as perhaps one of the prophets, because it was common knowledge that God could empower His prophets to perform miracles. For them, therefore, Jesus’ claim that He was God was tantamount to blasphemy, and according to Jewish law, deserved to be meted the ultimate punishment of death.

One of the great mysteries in our Christian faith is why God had to undergo a complicated process of establishing His Church among a people who could not understand Him, and who even condemned Him for seemingly contravening their established tradition and belief. But the Messiah did not come just to solve a political problem of the Jews. And if God could make a supreme sacrifice — as Abraham was asked to prove his faith– to save mankind, surely the Israelite nation could have made that leap of faith (as the disciples did) in believing the words of Jesus that He was indeed Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Now we know that the message our Lord was trying to convey was not only for the ears of the Jews of His time, who might as well be deaf to His words as they were blind to His works. Jesus was speaking in the Gospel of St. John for all of His followers – Christians of all generations up to the present time. He was saying that His Word is eternal, and His Word is life for all who believe in Him. It is His promise, as God, that whoever heeds His words in the Bible and make them the rule in his life will never experience death – in the sense that he will inherit eternal life. Jesus is the Word of God and the Giver of life, as He plainly demonstrated in many instances in His brief life on earth. During this season of Lent, let us meditate on the words and life of our Lord in the Gospel, and ask ourselves, “Do I believe and accept the words of Jesus, and accept Him as my Lord and Savior?” Then I need no longer fear the sting of death, because He is the Giver of life.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, not only for giving me this life that I live, but more importantly, for offering me the gift of eternal life in the Father’s kingdom through Your precious Word. I accept Your offer, and pray that my life will be a fitting sacrifice to be worthy of it. Amen.

True Freedom

John 8: 31-42
Dn 3:14-20,91-92,95 / Dn 3

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
(John 8:31-32)

How can one say that he is free
When he is bound by the chains of sin?
Only God’s Word can make us see
True freedom lies in self-discipline.

Jesus said to those who believed in Him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for My Word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.” “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.” They protested, “We are not illegitimate children. The only Father we have is God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.” (John 8:31-42)

Reflection

The Jews thought Jesus was talking about political freedom, such as liberation from the Romans, because Israel was then under the dominion of Rome. But Jesus was speaking about spiritual freedom, the freedom from sin, and alienation from God. Much like the error of the Jews in Jesus’ time, many people today think freedom means being independent, having the power of choice to do whatever we wish to do as we please. This is the kind of liberation that our consumerist society is selling today, and certainly not the kind of freedom that Jesus was talking about, because this freedom only leads us away from the truth. It is a harmful license that has only resulted in the spread of drug addiction, promiscuity, abortion, alcoholism, and all the evils of a permissive society. In the end, it is not freedom at all, but a millstone that the prince of lies has tied around the sinner’s neck, which will eventually drown him in the depths of despair.

On the contrary, what our Lord is teaching us in today’s Gospel is the freedom from the very bondage of sin, from which only the truth in the Gospel can liberate us. Jesus is teaching us that if we abide by His Word, the Holy Spirit will empower and guide us to live our lives according to God’s will. It is only by knowing our Savior fully, through the Holy Scriptures, and establishing a personal relationship with Him that we can experience genuine liberation. “His truth will set us free.”

This much is true: we cannot pursue the world’s pleasures and remain in God’s Word at the same time. For “no man can serve two masters.” In this season of Lent, let us spend more time reading God’s Word in the Bible, rather than indulging in worldly activities that only enslave us, and distract us from our true purpose in life.

Thank you, Jesus, for Your Word, which has freed us from the bondage of sin and ignorance, and has become our sword and armor in our struggle to be free. Amen.