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The plot thickens and quickens in John’s description of the Last Supper. Jesus is reclining at the dinner, surrounded by his close companions. He again feels deeply troubled, knowing he will be betrayed and tells them so. When he dips a piece of bread into the dish and hands it to Judas, ‘Satan enters Judas’ and, when Jesus tells him to do what he has to do, Judas leaves the table to go and tell the authorities where they can arrest Jesus later that night. None of the others understand what is happening.
What is happening? The shadow is emerging from the shadows and, if not yet visible to all, its influence is and will be felt by everyone. Although the gospels tend to demonise Judas as a traitor, Jesus, while knowing what he is doing, sees his betrayal in the large perspective. This global perspective is the fruit of a profound interior life which enables us, and him pre-eminently, to understand every action in terms of its ultimate effect. That Jesus sees this action in this perspective, personally painful as it is at this dark moment, is made clear by his comment that it triggers his own ‘glorification’.
Glory is a slippery word as it suggests something external, lustrous, dressed up, dripping in medals and jewels. The real meaning is much more about revealing the value of someone as they truly are. One literal translation suggests: to ‘ascribe weight by recognising real substance and value’. One cannot glorify oneself. One has to be recognised for who one truly is.
The radical paradox is that Judas’ betrayal is part of a process that reveals who Jesus truly is. Because of his profound interior life and clarity of self-knowledge – still evolving until his last breath – Jesus understands this. This self-awareness explains the equanimity and peace that we see in him throughout his coming Passion.
As always, this understanding of the scripture flashes us back a message – ‘and what about you, o reader, what about your interior life?’
As the mystical understanding of Jesus developed in the early church, awareness grew in the whole Christian community about the importance of the interior life in each individual. The words of Jesus revealing the power of the inner truth of his self-knowledge became better understood and recognised. With this came the insight that to follow him means to grow in the interior life, to expand the perspectives of our understanding, to deepen and clarify our consciousness.
This becomes explicit not just in the lecture rooms of the early Christians but primarily in the cells and hermitages of the monastic movement spreading rapidly in the desert. The basic understanding there was to develop interiority through deep attention to oneself, while avoiding the obvious pitfall of increasing rather than transcending our egoism. Then as now the danger of contemplative life is narcissism. To avoid it we need guides, companions, discipline in practice and a robust sense of humour.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2024
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