For a world of finger-pointing, the day is ripe with opportunity. Today is “Spy Wednesday,” an old and uncommon name for the Wednesday of Holy Week, so-named because it marks the agreement of Judas to betray Jesus. As told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Judas approaches the chief priests and asks what they would be willing to give him for turning Jesus over to them. They agree on a sum, and from then on Judas looks for opportunity to hand him over.(1)
Some commemorate the involvement of Judas in the story of Holy Week by collecting thirty pieces of silver, the exact amount Judas was given to betray Jesus, and later returns to the chief priests in regret. Typically, children gather the coins and present them as gifts to the church for the community. In a less congenial commemoration, tradition once involved children throwing an effigy of Judas from the church steeple, then dragging it around the town while pounding him with sticks. For whatever part of us that might want a person to blame for the events that led to the betrayal, death, and crucifixion of Jesus, Judas makes an easy target.
But nothing about Holy Week is easy, and the gospels leave us wondering if guilt might in fact hit closer to home. It is noted in Mark’s Gospel, in particular, that the moral failures of the week are not handed to any one person, but described in all of the actors equally: Yes, to Judas the betrayer. But also to weak disciples, sleeping and running and fumbling. To Peter, cowardly and denying. To scheming priests, indifferent soldiers, angry mobs, and the conceited Pilate. Mark brings us face to face with human indecency, such that it is not a stretch to imagine our own in the mix.
While we may well successfully remain apart and shrouded from the events, conversations, and finger-pointing of Holy Week, the cross invites the world to see that we stand far nearer than we might realize. Such a thought might seem absurd or dramatic, a manipulative tool of theologians, or an inaccurate accusation on account of your own sense of moral clarity. Yet the invitation to emerge from our own darkest failings, lies, and betrayals is somewhere in the midst of this story as well; not an invitation to dwell in our own impoverishment or to wallow in guilt on our way to Easter morning, but rather, a summons to death and light via our shared humanity with Christ himself.
The difficult message of the cross is that there is room beside the hostile soldiers, fickle crowds, and fleeing disciples. But perhaps the more difficult, and merciful, message of the cross is that it summons us to set that guilt down and see humanity more clearly in the one being crucified. Pointing fingers and holding onto a sense of guilt is easier than admitting there’s a way to wholeness of life and hope and liberty, which leads through the death and self-giving love of another soul. Before we find an adequate scapegoat to detract attention from our own failings, before we even considered the endless possibilities of finger-pointing, Christ in fullest humanity died pointing at the guilt-ridden and the guilt-denying, the soldier and the priests and the disciple and the friend and the adversary, who he would just not let go.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.