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The Daily Bread, 07.04.20: The “Dramatis Personae”


The Daily Bread, 7th April 2020

Readings: Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 70(71):1-6,15,17; John 13:21-33,36-38


There is “high drama” in today’s Gospel. It’s one of those excerpts which could be filmed dramatically, but with the camera stopping at certain points for a commentator to explain, or try and explain, what is going on.

Firstly, there is Jesus himself. In the opening verse, he is “troubled in spirit” because he is about to reveal who will betray him. Troubled for the betrayal; troubled for the betrayer. Somewhat counter-intuitively, once Judas goes to the deed, Jesus bursts into exultation at the fact he has just been glorified by the fact that this deed was being done. It’s almost as if he is relieved that it’s all out in the open. In fact, however, looking more closely at the words of his exultation, it becomes clear that he is rejoicing in the fact that the Father’s plan of salvation is now reaching its definitive stage and that he, Jesus, will soon be returning to the Father.

At any rate, humanly speaking, Jesus goes from being troubled to being exultant in a matter of minutes. Not, of course, a sign of being bipolar, but a sign of the stakes in play.

The remaining “dramatis personae” are all characterised in the Gospel by the position they take towards Jesus. Here’s the thing. Jesus always elicits from anyone the taking of a stance towards him. Indifference or ignoring him is already a stance.

Taking the characters in order of appearance, there is first John. Described as the disciple Jesus loved, he is reclining next to Jesus. Peter signals to John to ask Jesus who it is that will betray him. John and Peter appear together with relative frequency in the Gospels. There is no rivalry between them. Peter accepts that John is the beloved, and has no jealousy. John accepts that Peter is first in the pecking order, and has no jealousy. Methinks this harmony between them is due primarily to Jesus himself, to the way he is able to compose and integrate those around him who believe in him. Already a sign of the organic order of the Mystical Body, perhaps.

While John’s stance towards Jesus is without drama, Peter’s is dramatic, possibly even melodramatic. There is always at some point an exaggeration in the strength of his emotions. One minute, he is wearing his hat as “prince of the apostles”, signalling to John, interrogating Jesus, swearing loyalty unto death. The Gospel does not say how Peter reacts when Jesus plainly tells him he will betray him. Maybe that’s because Peter just fell silent. Perhaps later he follows John into the house of the High Priest to prove Jesus wrong. Of course, that fell flat on its face within minutes.

Next there is poor Judas. Once he receives the bread from Jesus, which does not seem to be the Eucharist, “Satan entered him.” At a meal with his friends and mentor, the bare-faced hypocrisy of the man is unveiled by Jesus. When Jesus says, “What you are going to do, do quickly”, it would seem that he is in fact saying that to Judas. However, by this point Judas was possessed by Satan, so Jesus might well have been addressing Satan directly. We don’t know. What we do know is that the stance Judas had come to assume towards Jesus was identified with that of the Destroyer. Was Judas like this from the start? Was it a case of him gradually adding one sin on top of the other until he surrendered his freedom to Satan? The text of the Gospel is certainly stark when it says that, “as soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. Night had fallen.” What a dark night that must have been in the soul of Judas!

Then there is Satan himself. At the end of the temptations of Jesus in the desert, the Gospel notes that Satan left Jesus to return at his “appointed time.” The Last Supper! I wonder how much Satan hovers around at Mass? What is for sure is that Satan was working on Judas and the Jewish Authorities steadily and gradually throughout the public ministry of Jesus. He also worked on Peter to try and dissuade Jesus from going through with his passion. But Satan can only make any headway with any of us if we let him, if we take the eye off the ball. We know that Judas hanged himself. Here is the “chef d’oeuvre” of Satan, to get a man to kill himself and damn himself. To dance with the devil is to die, eternally.

Finally, there is God the Father. The exultant words of Jesus show that he has seen his Father’s hand at work in this decisive step forward in the plan of salvation, despite the treachery of men and the machinations of the devil. Whoever is at one with God can, even in the midst of the evil around him, see his hand at work and give him thanks.

What about us?

If we know him, we have to take a stand. Possibly, the characters in today’s Gospel represent the main types of stance that human beings take (God the Father being exempt, of course!). John is peaceably all for Jesus, Judas all against and Peter is now for and now against and now for again!

My name is Peter! What’s yours?