Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Judas Iscariot and Spy Wednesday


Today is Spy Wednesday, when the Church traditionally remembers the initiation of the betrayal of Jesus by his apostle, Judas Iscariot. It is interesting in the Gospel of Matthew that Judas approaches the chief priests with his proposal of conspiracy immediately after Our Lord rebukes the disciples for false compassion:
And when Jesus was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, There came to him a woman having an alabaster box of precious ointment, and poured it on his head as he was at table. And the disciples seeing it, had indignation, saying: To what purpose is this waste? For this might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. And Jesus knowing it, said to them: "Why do you trouble this woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For the poor you have always with you: but me you have not always. For she in pouring this ointment upon my body, hath done it for my burial. Amen I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done, shall be told for a memory of her." [Matthew 26:8-13]
In the Gospel of St. John, the evangelist names names, identifying the principle agitator in the scene above:
Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray him, said: "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were put therein."John 12:3-6.
Returning to Matthew's account, Judas then immediately goes and seeks out the enemies of Our Lord:
Then went one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, to the chief priests, And said to them: "What will you give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" But they appointed him thirty pieces of silver. And from thenceforth he sought opportunity to betray him. [Matthew 26:14-16]
Thus, Judas becomes a spy for those seeking to destroy Jesus--hence, Spy Wednesday. Though the term has fallen out of parlance today, Spy Wednesday was used with regularity in English-speaking countries through the 19th century. The Irish Ecclesiastical Record says, in some places, that Spy Wednesday was a day of strict abstinence. It is also one of three days on which the Tenebrae ceremony is celebrated in traditional Catholic practice.

Satan chewing on Judas
by Gustav Doré
For his crime, Judas is considered one of the worst sinners in history. In the Divine Comedy, Dante puts the soul of Judas in the deepest, darkest, most horrifying place in Hell--one of the three mouths of Satan:
In each mouth he mashed up a separate sinner
With his sharp teeth, as if they were a grinder,
And in this way he put the three through torture.

For the one in front, the biting was as nothing
Compared to the clawing, for at times his back
Remained completely stripped bare of its skin.

"That soul up there who suffers the worst pain,"
My master said, "is Judas Iscariot —
His head within, he kicks his legs outside."
For the record, Satan's other two mouths, according to Dante, are occupied by two other famous betrayers, Brutus and Cassius.

Let us pray along with the Tenebrae service for Spy Wednesday, that God may not forsake the Church in our distress and may not allow us to be sent down into darkness:

Save me from the mire; do not let me sink;
let me be rescued from those who hate me
   and out of the deep waters.
Let not the torrent of waters wash over me,
   neither let the deep swallow me up;
do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.

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