Lenten Reflection: Day 42
Gospel, John 13: 21-33, 36-38
It is no light question, brethren, that meets us in the Gospel of the blessed John, when he says: “When Jesus had thus said, He was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” Was it for this reason that Jesus was troubled, not in flesh, but in spirit, that He was now about to say, “One of you shall betray me”? Did this occur then for the first time to His mind, or was it at that moment suddenly revealed to Him for the first time, and so troubled Him by the startling novelty of so great a calamity?
Was it not a little before that He was using these words, “He that eateth bread with me will lift up his heel against me”? And had He not also, previously to that, said, “And ye are clean, but not all”? where the evangelist added, “For He knew who should betray Him:” to whom also on a still earlier occasion He had pointed in the words, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Why is it, then, that He “was now troubled in spirit,” when “He testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me”?
He was troubled, then, who had power to lay down His life, and had power to take it again. That mighty power is troubled, the firmness of the rock is disturbed: or is it rather our infirmity that is troubled in Him? Assuredly so: let servants believe nothing unworthy of their Lord, but recognize their own membership in their Head. He who died for us, was also Himself troubled in our place. He, therefore, who died in power, was troubled in the midst of His power: He who shall yet transform the body of our humility into similarity of form with the body of His glory, hath also transferred into Himself the feeling of our infirmity, and sympathizeth with us in the feelings of His own soul. Accordingly, when it is the great, the brave, the sure, the invincible One that is troubled, let us have no fear for Him, as if He were capable of failing: He is not perishing, but in search of us [who are]. Us, I say; it is us exclusively whom He is thus seeking, that in His trouble we may behold ourselves, and so, when trouble reaches us, may not fall into despair and perish. By His trouble, who could not be troubled save with His own consent, He comforts such as are troubled unwillingly.
Strong-minded, indeed, are those Christians, if such there are, who experience no trouble at all in the prospect of death; but for all that, are they stronger-minded than Christ? Who would have the madness to say so? And what else, then, does His being troubled signify, but that, by voluntarily assuming the likeness of their weakness, He comforted the weak members in His own body, that is, in His Church; to the end that, if any of His own are still troubled at the approach of death, they may fix their gaze upon Him, and so be kept from thinking themselves castaways on this account, and being swallowed up in the more grievous death of despair? And how great, then, must be that good which we ought to expect and hope for in the participation of His divine nature, whose very perturbation tranquillizes us, and whose infirmity confirms us?
“What thou doest, do quickly,” not because thou hast the power in thyself, but because He wills it who has all the power. “Now no one of those at the table knew for what intent He spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the money-bag, that Jesus said unto him, Buy those things which we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.” The Lord, therefore, had also a money-box, where He kept the offerings of believers, and distributed to the necessities of His own, and to others who were in need. It was then that the custom of having church-money was first introduced, so that thereby we might understand that His precept about taking no thought for the morrow was not a command that no money should be kept by His saints, but that God should not he served for any such end, and that the doing of what is right should not be held in abeyance through the fear of want.
“The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice.” Although thou say, “I know not the man;” although thou say, “Man, I know not what thou sayest;” although thou say, “I am not one of His disciples;”6 thou wilt be denying me. If, which it were sinful to doubt, Christ so spake, and foretold the truth, then doubtless Peter denied Christ. Let us not accuse Christ in defending Peter. Let infirmity acknowledge its sin; for there is no falsehood in the Truth. When Peter’s infirmity acknowledged its sin, his acknowledgment was full; and the greatness of the evil he had committed in denying Christ, he showed by his tears. He himself reproves his defenders, and for their conviction, brings his tears forward as witnesses.
Nor have we, on our part, in so speaking, any delight in accusing the first of the apostles; but in looking on him, we ought to take home the lesson to ourselves, that no man should place his confidence in human strength. For what else had our Teacher and Saviour in view, but to show us, by making the first of the apostles himself an example, that no one ought in any way to presume of himself? And that, therefore, really took place in Peter’s soul, for which he gave cause in his body. And yet he did not go before in the Lord’s behalf, as he rashly presumed, but did so otherwise than he reckoned. For before the death and resurrection of the Lord, he both died when he denied, and returned to life when he wept; but he died, because he himself had been proud in his presumption, and he lived again, because that Other had looked on him with kindness).
The above is an excerpt from St Augustine’s tractates 60-64, 66 on the Gospel of St John.