Spy Wednesday: Fear

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” . . .

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

—Matthew 26:1–5, 14–16

It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest [Jesus] by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” . . .

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.

—Mark 14:1–2, 10–11

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put [Jesus] to death, for they feared the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

—Luke 22:1–5

Holy Wednesday is commonly referred to as Spy Wednesday, as it’s the day Judas negotiated with the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council) to betray Jesus. The religious leaders had been had been plotting to get rid of Jesus since the beginning of his ministry, really; for example, Mark the Evangelist notes that after Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, “the Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (Mark 3:6). They didn’t like Jesus’s interpretations of God’s law. And they certainly didn’t like his claiming to be the Son of God—blasphemy.

Their plotting kicks into high gear this week, when they get an insider from Jesus’s traveling band to surreptitiously report on his activity and whereabouts, which will enable them to swoop in for an arrest.

LOOK: Maynard Dixon (American, 1875–1946), Shapes of Fear, 1930–32. Oil on canvas, 40 × 501⁄8 in. (101.5 × 127.3 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. [object record]

Dixon, Maynard_Shapes of Fear

In this painting by Maynard Dixon, four shadowy figures, cloaked and hooded, stand on a mound of earth. They move clandestinely, at dusk, it appears. One of them faces us directly, but his face is missing, evoking a sense of menace.   

I first encountered Shapes of Fear at one of my local museums a few years ago and was transfixed by it. There was no description to contextualize the scene.

I am reminded of the chief priests, scribes, and elders, who acted stealthily to see that this Jesus fellow, so-called Son of God, was done away with. Fear was a big motivator for them. Fear of losing their power, of God’s truth being corrupted, of a changing status quo, of confronting their own hypocrisy. Mark 11:18 states it outright: “And the chief priests and the scribes heard it [Jesus’s rebuke of the money-changers in the temple] and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching” (emphasis added).

Some churches hold a Tenebrae (Latin for “shadows” or “darkness”) service on Spy Wednesday, which involves a gradual extinguishing of candles along with readings from the passion narratives.

LISTEN: “The Hour” by Joseph Tawadros, on The Hour of Separation (2010)

Egyptian Australian musician Joseph Tawadros [previously] is one of the world’s leading oud (fretless lute) players and is credited with expanding the instrument’s notoriety in mainstream Western culture. In this piece he performs alongside his percussionist brother, James Tawadros; drummer Jack DeJohnette; guitarist John Abercrombie; and bassist John Patitucci. The latter three are jazz heavyweights from New York.

Several times in the Gospels, Jesus refers forebodingly to “the hour” in which he will be captured, tortured, and killed. After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem he tells the crowds that followed him that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23), and he goes on to talk parabolically about his death. In his Farewell Discourse, he tells his disciples that “behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone” (John 16:32). And a few beats later, in John 17:1, Jesus “lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you . . .’”

In the parallel account of Gethsemane in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus prays that “the hour might pass from him” (Mark 14:35), and when God declines the request, Jesus concedes that “the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Mark 14:41).

For more songs for Holy Week, see the Art & Theology Holy Week Playlist.

Holy Wednesday (Artful Devotion)

Ratgeb, Jorg_Last Supper (detail)
Attributed to Jörg Ratgeb (German, ca. 1480–1526), The Last Supper (detail), 1505–10. Oil on panel, 38 7/10 × 36 in. (98.5 × 91.5 cm). Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
But you, O LORD, be gracious to me,
and raise me up . . .

—Psalm 41:9–10

“. . . the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. . . .”

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.

Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.

So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

—John 13:18b–19, 21–30

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SONG: “Judas Song (Psalm 41​:​9​–10)” by Matt Grimsley (words adapted from the Trinity Psalter) | Performed by the Green Carpet Players, on Morning to Evening (2014)

 

ORCHESTRAL REPRISE: “Judas Song, Pt. 2: The Betrayer” by Amy Porter, based on a melody by Matt Grimsley | Performed by the Green Carpet Players, on Morning to Evening (2014)

 

The Green Carpet Players is the recording alias of the musicians of Redeemer Church of Knoxville. Since they released this second album in 2014, chief musician Matt Grimsley, who wrote “Judas Song,” has become the founding pastor of Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wisconsin, and Amy Porter is now worship director at Church of the Redeemer in Maryville, Tennessee.

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Ratgeb, Jorg_Last Supper
Attributed to Jörg Ratgeb (German, ca. 1480–1526), The Last Supper, 1505–10. Oil on panel, 38 7/10 × 36 in. (98.5 × 91.5 cm). Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

In Jörg Ratgeb’s Last Supper, the disciples have laid aside their pilgrim’s staffs and have sat down to a Passover meal of roast lamb, bread, and wine. Jesus, having just announced that one of them would betray him, looks across the table at Judas, the group’s treasurer—who wears not one but two purses! Jesus tenderly and regretfully feeds Judas an unleavened wafer, indicating that he’s the one. The others seem not to notice—groups of two discuss among themselves who the traitor might be; one disciple guzzles down more wine from a tubed bottle, while another pours more from a jug; John’s asleep to Christ’s left, and to his right Peter stares blankly into space, knife in hand (foreshadowing his cutting off the ear of one of Jesus’s arresters later that night); and one crass disciple turns his head to shoot snot out his nose.

Jesus has just washed all their feet, as indicated by the water basin and towel in the foreground—a stunning act of humility. (We will visit that episode in tomorrow’s Gospel reading.) His supremest act of humility is but a day away. It’s alluded to by the poster at the left of a snake lifted up on a staff (see John 3:14–15), as well as by the monstrance (a receptacle for the consecrated Eucharistic host) that two angels raise above Jesus’s head, proclaiming his impending sacrifice.

The sweet, generative nature of this sacrifice is underscored by the lily-of-the-valley that’s strewn all over the floor and table, as the flower is connected with the advent of spring and the promise of new life.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Wednesday of Holy Week, cycle A, click here.

Holy Monday (Artful Devotion)

Supper at Bethany (Vaux Passional)
Illumination from the Vaux Passional, England, ca. 1503–4. Peniarth MS 482D, fol. 15v, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. [see full page]

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone; she intended to keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

—John 12:1–11

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SONG: “Said Judas to Mary” by Sydney Carter, 1964 | Performed by ValLimar Jansen and the choir of Christ the King Church, Kingston, Rhode Island, 2015

View the lyrics and sheet music at www.hopepublishing.com.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Monday of Holy Week, cycle A, click here.

Betrayal danced out

The following dance, choreographed by Travis Wall, premiered August 4, 2010, on So You Think You Can Dance. It is performed by season 7 runner-up Kent Boyd and season 3’s Neil Haskell to DeVotchKa’s “How It Ends.”

I’ve never personally experienced a betrayal of this magnitude, so when I watch the dance, I think of that supremely infamous act of disloyalty recorded in scripture: Judas’s handing over his friend Jesus to the religious authorities in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.

The two men in Wall’s piece start out as buddies—they provide support for each other, and catch the other when he’s on his way down. But then one of them stabs the other in the back. Confusion, hurt, and anger ensue; pleas for restoration are made, and the two briefly rehearse their nostalgia for what used to be. But the betrayer will not relent: he proceeds to crush his former friend underfoot. In one last effort to repair the broken friendship, the betrayed one chases down and clutches his friend but ultimately realizes he has to release him, for he has chosen his path. The end of the dance shows the betrayer remorseful in the shadows as his victim moves on toward his own separate destiny.   Continue reading “Betrayal danced out”