We come to the dark, slow days of the Passion.
The darkness was shed over the soul of Jesus. He drew His dear ones closer to Himself and took them, as it were, into His confidence. Oh, what gentleness, what patience He showed! He spoke to them for the last time on the eve of His death, after they had eaten the Pasch with Him.
The lights were low, and the shadows gathered around; an air of mystery and coming danger pervaded the little company. Jesus told them of the terrible prophecies about to be fulfilled, and then He consoled them with words of such tenderness that only the beloved disciple dared record them.
That night, His love for them was greater than it had ever been. He yearned to comfort them in advance, even forgive them, for the cowardice they would show on the morrow. He excused their faults—were they not His frail, feeble little ones?—and He could not bear to think of the remorse that would fill their hearts after they had deserted Him. With the tenderness of a loving mother, He drew them into His heart, and sorrowed for their sorrow when He should no longer be near to console them.
“Little children,” He said to them, “yet a little while I am with you…. Whither I go you cannot come.” And Simon Peter, his heart glowing with a spark from His Master’s love, cried out: “Lord, why cannot I follow Thee?” And Jesus gently answered him whose burning love must yet be purified with humility: “Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Amen, amen, I say to thee: the cock shall not crow till thou deny me thrice.” Then He added, as though to console Peter and the others who heard: “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God: believe also in me.”
After a short time, seeing them penetrated with love, and the tears of tenderness stealing down their cheeks, He said to them: “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, and it is now come, that you shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken to you that in me you may have peace” (John 13:33, 37–38; 14:1; 16:31–32).
What kindness! What tenderness of heart! Like a fond father, who in the prodigal’s departure sees only the dangers that beset him, and who calculates only the pain and remorse he will feel when his heart at length is broken, so was Jesus. The disciples were not haughty or malicious, only very weak. He, so good, so patient, did not want to discourage them; He wished only to put them on their guard and warn them of their danger. “Let not your heart be troubled. When these things come to pass, remember my words, and know that while I am speaking my heart is yearning for you; so do not lose courage, but rise and trust in me.”
This is how our Master loved us, one and all.
But what can we say when we glance at Judas—Judas, one of the twelve; one of those of whom Jesus said, “I will not call you servants, I will call you friends” (see John 15:15)? Unhappy Judas! He betrayed his Master for thirty pieces of silver. And Jesus knew it. For three years He kept this secret to Himself. He treated Judas like the rest; called him, trusted him, heaped upon him countless benefits.
No one—unless, perhaps, John, whose love for Jesus seems to have penetrated the traitor’s guise—could have suspected that Judas was he whom Satan had chosen as his tool. Our Savior even gave him a special mark of confidence: He entrusted him with the money belonging to the little band. But Judas was avaricious. John perceived this. Jesus appeared to close His eyes to this and left time and grace to do their work.
And over this heart, which slowly and firmly closed its doors, Jesus showered the gifts of love, and again and again offered pardon—that gift so rare among men—so precious that they hesitate to accord it to the sinner. How mysterious is the attitude of Jesus toward the traitor! More than anything else, it shows to what an excess His love for man could go.
Jesus drank deeply, slowly, silently of that royal cup of sorrow—treason from a friend, from one who was nearer than a brother. And all the time, He heaped benefits on the fallen Apostle. He spoke to him kindly, gently, having always before His mind the treason Judas sought to conceal. He washed Judas’s feet the night before He died, and when He had been already sold by him.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, when at last the traitor threw down the mask and put the crown on his infamies by the betrayal kiss, Jesus said to him, in the old familiar tone of love, “Friend, whereto art thou come?” (Matt. 26:50). He still called him “friend.” He wanted to show Judas that he, even he, had not exhausted the love and patience of His heart.
Surely this scene is the climax of the love that Jesus had for His disciples. It lays bare a horizon so vast that the eye of man cannot fathom it, for the heart that was open to the traitor Judas is open still for all sinners. They are all lost in this abyss of mercy, and the call for the prodigal’s return is ever sounding in their ears.
The Lord’s Offering
After He had left His chosen ones, Jesus would give them another assurance of His love. He called them to a sublime vocation. He admitted them to an intimacy that astounded them. He bore with them and suffered mistrust and coldness from them without diminishing His love. Then, when He must leave His little flock, He sent His Holy Spirit to complete the work that He had begun in their souls.
Yet even then His heart was not content; His love was not satisfied. To crown all, to make their vocation more sublime, to render their intimacy with Him more real, to perfect the patience that He had taught them by His example, to add yet another jewel to their diadem of glory, to let them give Him what, in love, He had given them, He gave them what only He could give—all powerful as He was—to those He loved best: He offered them the martyr’s crown, allowing them to die for Him.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Sertillanges’s classic book, 33 Years in the Holy Land What: Jesus Saw from Bethlehem to Golgotha. It is available as an ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press.
Fr. Sertillanges’ classic What Jesus Saw From the Cross is also available.