I Will Lay Down My Life for You
Tuesday April 10, 2001 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tuesday of Holy Week
Reading (Isaiah 49:1-6) Gospel (St. John 13:21-33, 36-38)
We hear the words of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading today. About the Servant, he says, "Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength." When we look at the crucifix, we could suggest that is what it appears on the outside. Jesus, for three years, had preached and gone around doing good works for all the people, teaching them the truth, and they hang Him on a tree. It looks, on the natural level of course, as if everything is finished, as if His mission had been a failure. But we know that it was not.
We know, as we saw yesterday (it would actually be in the lines following this morningís reading), that He is the covenant of the people. In order to be that covenant, He had to be sacrificed. That covenant continues. In fact, we will hear in just a couple of moments: "This is the blood of the new and everlasting covenant." It is in the shedding of His blood that the covenant takes place. Each one of us has been baptized into that covenant. We celebrate that covenant every single time that we are at Mass, particularly every time we receive Holy Communion. Again, that is what we see in the Gospel reading today, He was far from having uselessly spent His strength...but the disciples didnít see that yet, they did not understand. All they could see was that something on the natural level was happening. But far from uselessly spending His strength, Jesus spent everything He had in order to save us; in order to incorporate us into a new covenant - into His very self.
So, He takes the bread and consecrates it into Himself. When we look at Saint Johnís Gospel, towards the end of Chapter 6, we see the reason Judas betrayed Jesus. It is because he could not accept the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, after Jesus had washed the feet of the disciples (including Judas), He takes the morsel and gives it to Judas. Satan enters his heart and Judas leaves. He could not accept the Eucharist. Jesus gave Himself to Judas, he received Holy Communion and rejected it. The covenant was offered to him and he refused. So, he goes out. Saint John says in that cryptic little phrase: "it was night". It was the darkness of his heart and the darkness that overcame everything at that moment. Truly, it was night; it was the hour of darkness. Yet, at the same time, in the midst of that darkness, we have Jesus, whom Saint John tells us is the light. And the darkness was not able to overcome Him. It appeared, for the moment, that darkness was victorious, that evil had conquered good. But as we all know, because of the Resurrection, evil was conquered in Christ.
That is what appears at the Last Supper, where the disciples do not understand. Judas was so incredibly smooth, that the disciples did not even recognize who the betrayer could possibly be. They had no clue who it could possibly be. Which one of them was it? You would think, if you were with a group long enough, as they had been for three years, that you would have an idea who it was that did not believe; you would have an idea who was hatching plots; you would have an idea who the traitor was. He would have been murmuring about things, talking about things, questioning, doubting, and other things. Not Judas. He kept things very neatly hidden until the moment of Holy Communion. At the moment the covenant was offered, at the moment where he could enter into union with Jesus Christ, he rose up and chose the darkness instead of the light. He refused the covenant in Jesus Christ. He could not accept that Jesus would not be uselessly spending Himself, but would spend Himself entirely, totally, 100%; giving Himself in a way Judas could never grasp. Under the form of bread and wine, Jesus would give Himself to us so we could eat His body and drink His blood and have life within us, as He told us we must do. That is what Judas could not accept. That is what Peter did not understand at the Last Supper when he said to Jesus, "I will lay down my life for you."
What about us? How much does that covenant mean to us? How much does the Eucharist mean to us? How much does Jesus Christ mean to us? Would we be willing to lay down our life for Him? Not in a moment of fervor, when we are filled with consolation and say, "O Lord, if You wish, Iíll die for you!" Because we all know how many times we have offered even smaller things than that, and when things become a little difficult, we do not follow through. Is there truly the depth of love within our hearts that we really would be willing to die for the Eucharist? Ask yourself, "Do I stand up for the Faith when it is attacked? Do I stand up for the Eucharist when people disbelieve? How important is it to me to be in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament? How important is it to me to receive Him in Holy Communion? Is it just something that I go through everyday? Or is it something that burns in my heart when I get out of bed and desire to be here at this hour of the morning to be in union with Jesus?" How important is this to us? This is the very sign of the covenant. This is the fulfillment of the covenant into which each one of us has been baptized. It is our union with Jesus Christ. It is not a sign; it is not a symbol. It is reality. This tells us who we are, more than anything in the whole world. How much does it really mean to us?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.