Today’s Gospel begins our Holy Week reflections. We see Christ as the people wish to see him – as a king, as a deliverer – and as long as he seems to meet their expectations, they cry Hosanna. Even his own disciples see him through the lenses of their own desires – so, despite being told that one of them is going to betray the Lord, they find time to argue over which of them will be reckoned the greatest. This provides Jesus with a last chance to tell them what he has already told them, that the greatest among them is the humblest, that his kingdom is not like that of this world: but neither the crowds nor the disciples can see him as he is. As Paul tells us in Philippians, he has emptied himself, he has assumed the form of a man, and will submit to death – even death on a Cross. But despite being told by him, the disciples to not yet understand.
We see this exemplified in Peter who, as ever, leads from the front – and without too much in the way of deep thinking. He, he declares will stand with Jesus, even unto death. So, despite being told that Stan is going to ‘sift’ him, and the others, Peter places his faith in his own courage; but the Lord has prayed for him; he sees Peter will fail, but foresees also that he will be restored. At this final moment before the ‘reign of darkness’ begins. Jesus asks the Father that were it possible, the cup should pass him by. We see here the truth of the Incarnation, for like all men, Jesus feared pain and death, he was, St Cyril of Alexandria reminds us, truly man; but being obedient where Adam was not, he submitted to the will of God: He takes upon Himself willingly the sins of the world. His own time of trial met, Jesus now waits for the reign of darkness to begin.
The betrayal by Judas is the first of a whole series of events from which none of those involved, save Jesus, emerges with honour. Judas betrays his Master, the Apostles resort to swords, Peter betrays his Lord, the members of the Sanhedrin betray their oaths to behave honourably, Pilate, who knows Jesus has done nothing to deserve death, nonetheless gives in the the demands of the Jews and the mob, Herod and Pilate allow the prisoner to be tortured and humiliated. Three men alone come out of the sorry tale of the Crucifixion with any honour: one is Simon the Cyrenean, who bears the Cross; one is Dismas, the ‘good thief’, the Centurion,: a stranger, a thief and a Gentile – outcasts – those whom He had come to save respond better than those who had walked with Him.
But this is a catalogue of male failure. The women – not named in Luke – are there – they follow him, they mourn for him, they bring myrrh to anoint his dead body. It is Mark, the ‘interpreter of Peter’, according to Papias, who gives us the information that Mary of Magdala was there, along with Mary the mother of James the younger, and Salome; to these John adds Mary, the mother of Jesus, and identifies the other Mary as the wife of Clopas, whom some scholars have thought to be the sister of Mary; Salome may also have been a sister of Mary. However one identifies these women, it is a close family group, and they are faithful unto death. Where the bold words of the man fail and, like them, vanish in the face of the horror which overwhelms the group of Jesus’ followers, the women closest to him remain close to him. It is fitting that it will one of them who will be the first person to witness the Resurrected Lord.
There are, in the Gospel accounts, so many signs of uncomfortable truths which could not be denied, that this alone would testify to their truth. He came to the world and the world know him not – even his Apostles left (except perhaps John) – but the women were faithful unto death – and beyond. May we be gifted with their perseverance and faith in the dark times.