Origen and Chrysostom both point out the searing honesty of the Evangelists in admitting that it was one of Twelve who betrayed the Lord. Origen points out the parallel with us, when we prefer the monetary and other rewards of this world in exchange for our souls;all who betray Him for the lures of the world are like Judas. Judas chooses a time when Jesus will not be with the crowds, for he and the Jewish authorities were fearful of the reaction of the people.
Chrysostom reckons that the ‘first day of the feast of the unleavened bread’ was actually the day before it, because it as customary to reckon the day for the evening before. As Jesus had no home, he and the Apostles have to find a place to celebrate the Passover. Origen sees the man ‘carrying the jar of water’ as a type for Moses – the giver of the law who bears the water of the Law and the Prophets. The room, St Jerome tells us, symbolises the spiritual law emerging from the restraints of the written record.
Origen says that the Apostles are sorrowful because they knew, from the teaching of Jesus, that human nature was unstable and liable to be turned toward sin; a man can be besieged by the powers of darkness and fall into despair, and so each, hoping it will not be him, says ‘Is it I, Lord?’ We too should do likewise and be not self-satisfied as though it could not be us – for look at what befell Peter. Chrysostom reminds us that in not naming Judas, the Lord gives him time yet for repentance; but he does not repent. But Judas is only the agent of the devil, who is the real betrayer.
In the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s own presence in the body and blood brings us, St Cyril reminds us, salvation from sin and death; through this new sacrament, Christ becomes the fulfilment of the Law. God did not will the death of Christ, but He allows it. Jesus emphasises that it is in fulfilment of prophecy that the Apostles fall away from him; Jesus, the shepherd is killed in order to bring unity among the scattered sheep.
St Cyril teaches that in saying that he would ‘go before you to Galilee’, Jesus was indicating that he would leave the Jews in order to lead the Gentiles. Peter, who had been audacious enough to say that he would never fall away of deny Jesus, dies both; he made a rash promise, not knowing, Chrysostom reminds us, the depth of the deceitfulness of human nature. Peter was still desirous of being the first, and he would find the truth of the saying that he who would be first, would be last.
To spare the disciples greater sorrow, Jesus prays alone in Gethsemane . St Hilary of Poitiers wonders whether Jesus was not sorrowful because of the fear that his disciples would fall away utterly and blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.
By saying that ‘if it be possible, let it pass from me’, Chrysostom reminds us that Jesus is showing the true humanity of his nature; but he shows an example of true obedience by submitting utterly to God’s will; words are not sufficient – deeds matter. The disciples, for all their words, do not live up to them in action; this is why Jesus tells us to pray in order to avoid temptation. St Jerome reminds us that it is impossible for us to avoid temptation, and that is why we need to pray for strength. As much as we trust, as Peter did, in an ardent spirit, we should remember that our flesh is weak. In his admonition to Peter, Jesus is forewarning him of what is to come.
Jesus’ betrayal comes as prophesied, and though guiltless he does not flee; He is faithful unto death. Let us go and do likewise. Jesus will not allow men to raise swords on his behalf; he tells them his father could send legions of angels – were that His divine will. Jesus submits even though He could have chosen flight or fight; God’s will be done.
Peter, as Chrysostom reminds us, at least follows Jesus rather than fleeing. Jerome teaches us that Caiaphas sees only blasphemy in what is, in fact, Christ’s perfect submission. All he can see is what the man who knows the Law but not the Spirit sees, and he will use even false testimony to do what he thinks is right; but in not swearing, it is Christ is is doing what is right. His enemies are whited sepulchres; Christ alone is righteous, and He fulfils, as St Cyril tells us, the words of the prophet Isaiah.
In that obedience is the pattern for us, although too often we are like the disciples who could not pray even an hour with him.