Christianity 201

April 13, 2022

The Days of Holy Week Have Names: This is Spy Wednesday

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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NLT. Matt.24.14 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests 15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Ten years ago, at the start of Lent, we ran an excerpt from a very detailed article at Wikipedia (again, not always the best go-to source for the budding theologian) on the subject of the particular days of the 40-day observance. The content varies a decade later, but here’s how we presented it then:

  • Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity
  • Clean Monday (or “Ash Monday”) is the first day in Eastern Orthodox Christianity
  • The fourth Lenten Sunday, which marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday, particularly by Roman Catholics, and Mothering Sunday, which has become synonymous with Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom. However, its origin is a sixteenth century celebration of the Mother Church. On Laetare Sunday, the priest has the option of wearing vestments of rose (pink) instead of violet.
  • The fifth Lenten Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday (however, that term is also applied to Palm Sunday) marks the beginning of Passiontide
  • The sixth Lenten Sunday, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter
  • Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday to commemorate the days on which Judas spied on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before betraying him
  • Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples
  • Good Friday follows the next day, on which Christians remember Jesus’ crucifixion and burial

At the time, not as many Evangelicals were as conscious of Lent as they are today. In looking at this years later, I also noticed that there is no mention of the day which follows Good Friday, which I had learned was Holy Saturday. However, the article places this differently:

In the Anglican, Lutheran, Old Catholic, Roman Catholic, and many other traditions, the Easter Triduum is a three-day event that begins Maundy Thursday evening, with the entrance hymn of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. After this celebration, the consecrated Hosts are taken solemnly from the altar to a place of reposition, where the faithful are invited to meditate in the presence of the consecrated Hosts.This is the Church’s response to Jesus’ question to the disciples sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” On the next day, the liturgical commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ is celebrated at 3 pm, unless a later time is chosen due to work schedules.

If your observance of Holy Week (and Lent in general) is far less complicated, I have two reactions to that. On the one hand, it asks people to carry a lot of extra information around in their heads as to where they are on the liturgical calendar. (In an Anglican or Catholic service, when the priest or rector speaks of these things, I’m sure some of it goes over the heads of parishioners, or simply bores them as something irrelevant.) On the other hand, there is a beauty to all this organization that I believe everyone who is interested in the capital “C” Church should at least have some conversational familiarity with. We need to follow along with Jesus and the disciples on the road to Jerusalem and the road to the cross.

Which brings us back to the title of today’s devotional. When I posted the original bullet-point list above, I must have been in a hurry, because “Spy Wednesday” did not immediately register.

We don’t know how far in advance Judas had been building a relationship with those who, after the resurrection of Lazarus, wanted Jesus out of the way. He would have needed to earn their trust, and a component of that trust was the “intelligence” information that Jesus frequented Gethsemane.

Judas was a necessary evil in the completion of God’s master plan, and I promise you, you’ll never see a more accurate use of the term “necessary evil.” Luke writes,

NRSV.Acts.1.16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

It’s difficult for us to understand how anyone could have spent up to 3 years with Jesus and not had his heart melted by what he had heard (teaching) and seen (miracles) but somehow self-interest was a big component of his thinking, and when he saw the tide turning after the Jerusalem entry, he made his move.

None of this comes as a surprise to Jesus. He has known what was in the heart of Judas all along, going back to the day he “chose twelve,” even to the point that the group gives Judas control of the petty cash (which I suspect involved sums required to keep thirteen itinerant men on the road.) And in the upper room meal, he lets Judas know that he knows.

CSB.Mark.14.18 While they were reclining and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one by one, “Surely not I?”

20 He said to them, “It is one of the Twelve—the one who is dipping bread in the bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for him if he had not been born.”

Even before events unfold, Jesus has also foreshadowed the things to follow in his garden prayer, which is somehow overheard and recorded in John’s gospel for us to examine. Speaking to the Father he says,

NLT.John.17.12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me, I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

For Judas of course, his self-intentioned course of actions means that no matter how the religious leaders and Roman peacekeepers come after Jesus and the other eleven disciples, he will be on the safe side of history. But the betrayal comes with a cash bonus! At that point, it’s a business transaction, but one which Judas immediately regrets, going so far as to offer a complete refund.

NIV.Matt.27.3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

This leaves Judas without a place to turn. He can’t go back to being part of the disciples. At this juncture, they know the role he played too well. He’s also lost the standing with the chief priests he worked so hard to earn. He’s even ruined his future career as a spy since no one will know for sure whose side he’s on.

As a spy story, it’s a bit of a disaster. And perhaps hardly deserving of its own special mention on the Holy Week calendar.

Years later, compiling what we know as The Gospel of Matthew, we realize that Jesus had very plainly foretold it all. Perhaps they heard the words he spoke that day, but they didn’t really hear it.

NIV.Matt.20.17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Jesus knew, and Jesus submitted and surrendered himself to the process. Judas the traitor was really just a pawn, not in this Holy Week story, but in a master plan that had been carved out in the mind of God long before “In the beginning.”


Further consideration: While we said above that Jesus is clearly letting Judas know that he knows, the idea seems so implausible to the other disciples that — in the moment — they all question their loyalty out loud.

 

 

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