WHO and WHY?

Rev. John Tran Kha, Houston, TX

Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66

"What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" (Mt 26:15).

The Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino was shot in the head by two gunmen after completing a group wedding Saturday night at a church in a poor neighborhood in the western city of Cali, Columbia. Pope John Paul II said that Archbishop Duarte has paid the highest price for his energetic defense of human life and his firm opposition to all types of violence." The President of Colombia, Estrada, has offered 434,000 dollars reward for information leading to the arrest of the Archbishop's killers. But many have expressed their doubt that anyone would respond to this reward. In the campaign and war against terrorism, the United States also promises millions of dollars rewarding those who would give accurate information of whereabouts is Osama Bin Laden or would hand him over to the United States. But so far none of his followers is willing to hand him over or providing any accurate information of where he is. But for the followers of Jesus, one of them called Judas Iscariot, goes to the chief priest and says, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?"

The Sin of Judas

Every time we hear about this action of Judas, we feel angry and disappointed at his action. All of us would agree that he should not have done that to Jesus. What kind of a person is he to do such a thing to his boss? How could he do that to his teacher and master who has never done anything to hurt any body, and who is so kind and so loving to everyone, especially to the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the dying and even the great sinners? He is a traitor and a betrayer. It is deplorable, incomprehensible and unacceptable to us. But if we take some time to reflect, open our eyes and observe, we could see many Judas Iscariot around us. If we take time to reflect and examine our way of living, we could see the behavior of Judas Iscariot in us too. The sin of betrayal, the sin of infidelity, the sin of selfishness, the sin of self-seeking and self-serving, the sin of greedy are everywhere. People are betraying other people. Christians are betraying their God. Clergies are betraying the people entrusted to them. Friends are betraying friends. Family members are betraying each other. A wife is hurt because her husband is leaving her for a younger woman. A husband is hurt because his wife falls in love with her co-worker at work. The children are hurt because their parents are divorcing and do not seriously take them into consideration. The scandal of sexual abuses of minors of some clergies is the sin of infidelity to God, and betrayal to the Church and to the people entrusted to them. The Church and the whole people of God are hurt by their actions. The sin of Judas Iscariot is the sin of greedy, of selfishness, of infidelity and of betrayal. And this sin is everywhere. Intentionally or out of weakness, in so many ways we are also guilty of this sin. The reading of the Passion of Jesus is an awakening and a verdict against humanity and against us. It is also a call for us to open our eyes to see who has died for us and why he has to die?

Not How but Who

The story of the passion is "not a matter of how but who dies for us on the cross and why he has to die that way? Matthew wants us to see that the One who is crucified on the cross is the Messiah. He dies because of our sins. He dies because he loves us. When the centurion and the other soldiers there witnessed the death of Jesus, they acknowledged, "Truly, this was the Son of God!" (Mt 26:14 -27: 66). The readings for the Passion Sunday give us the final picture of who Jesus of Nazareth really is. The preface for this Sunday explains, "Though he was sinless, he suffered willingly for sinners. Though innocent, he accepted death to save the guilty. By his dying he has destroyed our sins. By his rising he has raised us up to holiness of life." Isaiah gives us the image of the faithful servant of God who willingly accepts suffering, ridicule, false accusations, humiliation and shame because he puts his trust in God (Is. 5:4-7). St. Paul shows the exaltation of Jesus as resulting from his obedience amid suffering unto death, "He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:6-11).

Our Reaction

What is our reaction when we commemorate the Passion of the Lord? As we come to the end of our Lenten journey of spiritual renewal and ready to celebrate the Tridium, we are invited and challenged to look at the One who is crucified and died for our sins on the cross and in the words of the centurion, confess, "Truly this is the Son of God!"(Mt 26:14 -27: 66).

The man, who was bishop of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during the early part of last century, was a great evangelizer. He tried to reach out to unbelievers, scoffers, and cynics. He liked to tell the story of a young man who would stand outside the cathedral and shout derogatory slogans at the people entering to worship. He would call them fools and all kinds of names. The people tried to ignore him but it was difficult. One day the parish priest went outside to confront the young man, much to the distress of the parishioners. The young man ranted and raved against everything the priest told him. Finally, he addressed the young scoffer by saying, "Look, let's get this over with once and for all. I'm going to dare you to do something and I bet you cannot do it."

And of course the young man shot back, "I can do anything you propose, you white-rope wimp!" "Fine," said the priest. "All I ask you to do is to come into the sanctuary with me. I want you to stare at the figure of Christ, and I want you to scream at the very top of your lungs, as loudly as you can, "Christ died on the cross for me and I don't care one bit."

So the young man went into the sanctuary, and screamed as loud as he could, looking at the figure, "Christ died on the cross for me and I don't care one bit."

The priest said, "Very good. Now do it again." And again the young man screamed, with a little more hesitancy, "Christ died on the cross for me and I don't care one bit." "You almost done now," said the priest. "One more time."

The young man raised his fist, kept looking at the statue, but the words wouldn't come. He just could not look at the face of Christ and say that any more.

The real punch line came when, after he told the story, the bishop said, "I was that young man. That young man, that defiant young man was me. I thought I didn't need God, but found out that I did (William J. Bausch, A World of Stories, # 96)