“When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit,” and he confessed it, saying: “One of you will betray me” (John 13:21).
This trouble in the holy soul and spirit of Jesus deserves careful attention. What we first notice is its cause: “one of you will betray me.” The treason of one of his disciples causes Jesus this interior trouble. What troubles him in general, then, is sin, and especially the sins of those who were most closely united to him, like Judas, whom he had placed in the ranks of his Apostles. His Passion — by which he would destroy sin — would be the occasion for so many new crimes, enormous and unprecedented crimes such as the treason of Judas, the inhumanity and ingratitude of the Jews, and, in a word, deicide. It was the thought of these crimes that brought him such interior trouble and made some of the bitterest dregs of the chalice he had to drink.
There are three principal places where St. John speaks of the trouble Jesus felt in his holy soul: here, and in the previous chapter, when he said, “Now is my soul troubled” (John 12:27), and earlier when he saw the tears of Mary, who wept for the death of her brother Lazarus: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33).
There is no doubt that at this moment the cause of his being troubled was the crime of Judas and of all those who would cooperate in his death. We may also see that when he said, “Now is my soul troubled” on the eve of his Passion, he was also chiefly thinking of this betrayal, for sin alone could cause him to be so moved. If he appeared so troubled at the death of Lazarus and by the tears shed on his behalf, we must not think that it was the death of Lazarus’s body that caused him to shudder. It was, instead, the death of the soul that he saw, as in an image, in the death of the body, for he knew that it was sin that had brought death into the world. Lazarus was the image of a sinner, and of a sinner in the most deadly and frightful condition, which is when, by hardened and habitual sin, he rots in his crime.
The trouble that Jesus here feels in his soul is the horror that affects him when considering sin, which is what causes the internal suffering that manifests itself as a shudder. If we may be allowed to peer into his most intimate feelings, what caused him the greatest pain on this occasion was that he saw the evil effect that his death would produce in sinners, by being for them an occasion to abandon themselves to sin through the hope that his merits would obtain pardon for them. This is what is most horrid in sin, when God’s goodness and the grace of redemption are put in its service. If this is what is most horrid about sin, it is also, consequently, what brought the Savior his greatest horror, his deepest shudders, and his troubled spirit.
The trouble that he felt at the approach of his death was not only caused by the perfidy that would result in his terrible death, but by its deeper causes. He had omitted nothing from his attempt to correct the Jews; their malice was the sole cause of their fury. It was also true that Jesus’ holiness, his doctrine and miracles, and his insistent calls for their repentance all should have worked to their salvation; instead they excited jealousy and implacable hatred. Judas himself took the words that Jesus spoke in defense of Mary’s anointing of his feet as the very occasion to leave him.
Jesus had to suffer death as the just punishment of all the sins whose weight he bore, in a certain sense as one guilty. Thus the horror of sin took hold of him. He saw himself surrounded by it and even penetrated by it. What a cruel spectacle for the Savior of mankind! He saw sin increase by the ill use to which his death would be put. It would make many say that he was not the Son of God and that all of his miracles had been so many illusions. It was scandal to the Jews, folly to the Greeks, and even at times to the faithful themselves. What an occasion of vengeance: for all those who would not profit from his death would become only more guilty, more worthy of punishment, and more subject to damnation. How touched by their misery was this good Savior, who so tenderly loves all men and who became man only to save us! O Jesus! This is what troubled your holy soul. This is what caused you to be moved. Let us then be horrified by sin, and let us see, in the troubles of Jesus, how greatly troubled our own conscience should be.