Scripture: Lectionary 260: “Spy Wednesday” April 4, 2012. Isaiah 50:4-9. Psalm 69:8-10.21-22.31.33-34. Matthew 26:14-25
Our readings from the Prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist were chosen by the Evangelists to help us see Jesus in the context and Christian rereading of these sacred texts so as to make them fulfilled in Christ especially during his Passion. These readings were certainly part of Jesus’ prayer and his preaching to others. The Church has accommodated them to the person of Jesus through the Evangelists who cite Second Isaiah’s Servant Songs and certain psalms during this Holy Week. Matthew is unique in citing the passages more frequently than the other Evangelists. This explains his being a Gospel that is more Jewish. In fact, it lends itself to Jewish Christian dialogue more easily than Mark, Luke, and John.
We can understand Jesus as prophetically having a skilled tongue shaped by his conformity to the Father’s will. “To know how to speak,” that his ear is aroused to hear divine instruction, and that he has obeyed the Father’s word to him. Rabbinic tradition understood this ability to speak favorably in defense of Israel”(see the tractate Yalkut Sh.2:406).
Psalm 69 fits the atmosphere of Holy Week. It is a lamentation that the Christian reader adapts to seeing it applied to Jesus’ sufferings and his oppression. It has been a favorite for citations in the New Testament and in the early Christian writers where it takes on a messianic perspective. One Jewish commentary tells us, “This psalm should be read throughout with Jeremiah in mind; whether he wrote it or not, his history gives the key to its meaning.” (Soncino Commentary, Cohen, p.216).
Matthew helps us on this Wednesday of Holy Week to follow the events of the last week of Jesus’ life. Because it centers on the betrayal of Judas at the Passover meal that was being prepared for on the first day of the Unleavened Bread it is easily linked to the sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross and its Eucharistic interpretation as the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Matthew is carefully following the outline and content of Mark’s Passion Narrative which is his primary source for this section of his Gospel. This does not take away from the power and inspiration that is unique to Matthew who knows the Hebrew Scriptures (the Tanach) so well.
The sacred liturgy leads us through these days by following the sequence of Jesus’ last days in the Jerusalem area. Christians from almost two thousand years have followed the way of the cross through the liturgical reading of the Passion Narratives and have entered deeply into the Paschal Mysteries.
St. Basil the Great in his book on the Holy Spirit writes:
We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in Baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life, and our Lord himself said that this cannot be done unless a man is born again. In other words, we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so until our previous life has been brought to an end. When runners reach the turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they can go back in the opposite direction. So also when we wish to reverse the direction of our lives there must be a pause, a death, to mark the end of one life and the beginning of another. Amen