I was at the theatre recently and half way into the first act a latecomer was allowed in. She caused general consternation as we made way for her to squeeze past everyone to get to her seat in the middle of the row. Once the show is underway, we should try to keep our attention focused because it is the uninterrupted flow of events that leads to the fullness of our response when the climax comes and the curtain falls.. and rise again. The same applies to Holy Week. If we get distracted from the quickening pace of the story, don’t waste a moment complaining but restore your attention to its focus.
Looking at a number of paintings of the Last Supper recently I noticed the different ways that Judas is positioned. In Leonardo’s famous mural, he is sitting, with a very criminal look fifth from the left, holding a revealing bag of silver (Peter is holding dagger with which he will later cut off the servant’s ear). In Ghirlandaio’s, Judas is sitting alone facing the rest of the group. In some pictures Judas is stereotyped as the most Jewish looking of them all. Generally, Judas is singled out as an unattractive and isolated figure, although in the narrative he has the moment of strongest, even mysterious intimacy with Jesus who knows what he is going to do and who quietly tells him to get on with it. (‘Night had fallen’)
Faces reveal and expose us. We recognise with happiness a familiar face in the airport crowd of welcomers waiting at Arrivals. Suddenly the crowd of strangers dissolves as a smiling face and friendly wave dispel the anonymity which is the worst part of travelling .
When we see a photo of ourselves we think, do I really look that like? From our faces, we understand uncomfortably, people may know us better, or at least differently, from how we know ourselves. If differently, who is more right?
In an instant a face may morph from a tense and anxious dark look into a radiant and childlike joyfulness. A wave of emotion sweeps over the soul and the muscles of the face involuntarily mirror it within moments. It takes time before we can regain control over what our facial expression is telling the world.
Even when our face is in repose and we are in between strong feelings of any kind, it always shows to everyone, though maybe least of all to ourselves, the sum total of all we have been. Formed over decades through countless muscular contractions, through frowns, tensely held jaws, phases of anger and sadness, pain and grief – and good things too – we have the face we deserve. It is all we have lived through. No amount of cosmetics or surgery can really hide the character of our face. Ageing is the least we have to worry about.
The face of Judas is our own worst fear about ourselves and it can therefore trigger the deepest, most transformative compassion. True conversion happens from a place far from the control of the will, a redemptive place of grace. When it happens we are rejuvenated and, if only for a moment, our original face, our truest self is visible to ourselves and to those who may still be looking at us with any interest after all those years.
In the face of Judas as of less obviously complex people, the face of Jesus Christ can suddenly flash forth, like a treasure held in earthen vessels:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Cor 4:6)