“God is My Reward” | Tuesday of Holy Week
(cf. Isaiah 49:1-6)
Throughout Lent the Roman liturgy often sings of the “rewards” or fruits of fasting and penance: sobriety and clarity of mind, a humbled heart, works of mercy, and forgiveness of sins—rewards that are gifts from God and which dispose us to an even greater attentiveness to Him. We can rest more fully in His presence when the senses are cleansed and quieted, and our sins forgiven. Our reward is not a big meal on Easter day, chocolate eggs, jelly beans, or whatever other good things might fill our Easter basket. In the end, our reward is the Lord Himself. His gifts lead us back to Himself, the Giver.
My God, when will I love you for yourself? Although when we think about it, Lord, to desire an everlasting reward is to desire you, for you give yourself as our reward. (The Forge, no. 1030)
For Judas, this recompense was unacceptable, as today’s gospel plainly indicates (Jn 13, 21-33, 36-38). He was frustrated by all of the practices or observances that God’s servants must take up in the apostolate: the self-denial, generosity, detachment, etc., that render us not only capable of receiving gifts freely but also of bestowing them likewise: “You received without pay, give without pay” (Mt 10:8).
Specifically, it was the demands of the apostolic life that disappointed him. The poverty and communal sharing of the apostles burdened Judas, his celibacy failed to bond him closer to the Lord, and obedience too often contradicted his will—and all of these aggravated him to the point of betrayal.
And so on that fateful Thursday night, when the Lord instituted the sacrament of His love, Judas could not grasp the total self-giving of the Lord in the Eucharist nor appreciate his own elevation to Christ’s friendship as a priest: “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” For Judas, like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son, closeness to the Lord was not recompense enough for what he had given up to follow Him. He wanted something more than friendship with a humble servant-Messiah and something better than communion with Him in bread and wine.
We hear Jesus’s voice at the Last Supper, full of the most noble human emotions, saying such things as, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.” My children! My friends! Terms of endearment, terms of the most tender intimacy, all within the context of the first Eucharist. Judas walked out on that sacred moment: What’s in it for me? What good is this? I’ve been with this Jesus for three years and have nothing to show for it. I’m lonely, poor, and a slave to absurd commands. In other words, as Isaiah tells us today, “I have toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly spent my strength.” But Judas forgot the follow-up: “My reward is with the Lord.”
Judas’ opportunity came and he got what he could out of Jesus: the price of a slave. That was his reward. It was cheap, transitory, and thrown away almost as soon as he had it in hand. If we are dissatisfied and aggrieved, we will not wait for the Lord, but strike out on our own. If God is glorified in weakness, sometimes we’d rather not stick around until, like Him, we’re broken and crushed to the earth. Judas certainly did not want the shame of association with a Man of sorrows. He wanted a small bag of silver coins instead.
That our reward is the Lord will become painfully real over the next few days when our Eucharistic hunger is heightened. On Good Friday and Holy Saturday tabernacles will be empty, altars stripped. Perhaps it is only when we are deprived of His presence that we realize how much that Presence fills us with the most noble and holy thoughts, emotions, and desires. Judas fled from that Presence and was left to himself and the devil’s company.
Even though our Lord voices acute human pain over being left alone not only by Judas but by all the apostles, He yet reminds us that He is (and we are) never truly alone: “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (Jn 16:32). In fact, the abandonment even sets the stage for His glorification, for as soon as Judas departs, Jesus announces solemnly, “Now is the Son of Man glorified….” (Jn 13:31).
The demands of discipleship often involve moments of poverty, loneliness, and difficult undertakings that we might rather give up on altogether. This will always be true, from the ancient roads of Palestine to modern city streets, from market place stalls to office cubicles. But the one treasure held out to us, then as now, is “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).
And often it is in the everyday toil, even in feelings of uselessness and defeat, that the clutter of our lesser motivations gets cleared away, and we are brought face-to-face, eye-to-eye, with Him who says, “I call you my friend.” Can we let that sink in, as this holy week unfolds, even and especially when those eyes and that face are marred beyond human semblance, and He looks about Him for our companionship? Judas has left, and will never return. What about you and me? What reward do we seek?
—I seek nothing else. I only want to please him and give him Glory. Everything for him. I say this in all truth: I will never set my sights on the prize. I don’t desire a reward: everything for Love! (cf. The Forge, no. 1033)