The Tuesday of Holy Week has traditionally been referred to as “Spy Tuesday.” That designation comes from today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus declares to his disciples, “Amen amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (John 13:21). This declaration came as a shock the disciples, who “looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant” (John 13:22). Jesus goes on to reveal his betrayer’s identity by whispering to the disciple “whom Jesus loved” that the betrayer was the one to whom he would hand the morsel and proceeding to hand it to Judas. However, the identity of this “spy” remained unknown to the other disciples.
Judas’ identification as the “spy,” the one who would betray Jesus, completely blindsides the bewildered disciples. But it is hardly a surprise to the readers of the Gospel narratives. The three Synoptic Gospels all record Jesus’ calling of the twelve apostles early in their accounts of his public ministry (Matthew 10, Mark 3, Luke 6). And in each case, Judas is listed last and identified as the betrayer of Jesus. In the Gospel of John, there is not a similar list of apostles, but there also Judas has already been identified as “the one who would betray him” (John 12:4, see also 13:2) before Jesus’ dramatic declaration in today’s Gospel. Even an inattentive reader of the Gospels would know the betrayer, the “spy,” was Judas.
Did Jesus also know this in advance? We are not told explicitly. But from what we are told and do know, especially from the Gospel of John, which emphasizes Jesus’ divine identity (1:1) and says that Jesus “knew all men” and “knew what was in man” (John 2:25), it seems likely that he did know. So why did Jesus choose Judas as an apostle in the first place? Why did he allow Judas to remain in his inner circle so long? Why did it take him so long to expose the “spy” and dismiss him from his company?
Jesus didn’t answer those questions. What he did, immediately after Judas’ departure, is declare, “Now is the Son of Man Glorified, and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31). Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks about the coming of his hour (see John 2:4, 4:21, 5:25,28, 7:6,8, 8:56) and prophesies his death as a divinely ordained time of fulfillment (see John 7:33, 8:21, 28, 9:5, 10:17, 12:7). The departure of the “spy” signals that the coming time is now and the hour of God’s glorification is at hand.
The “spy” has and important part to play in the drama of Holy Week. His betrayal signals that the Passion play is underway. He will soon be met again in the garden where he knows Jesus’ and his disciples will have gone. He will bring with him a band of soldiers. Peter will want to fight them off, but Jesus knows that this is all part of God’s plan. “Shall I not drink the dup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). This Passion is a story full of malicious choices and wicked deeds. Judas is just the beginning. The chief priests, Herod, Pilate, the Jewish mob, and the Roman soldiers are to follow. It is a story of profound evil.
It is also a story of glorious divine compassion and the triumph of the God of Love. “The Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him.” God does not accomplish this glorification in spite of all the evil. God accomplishes His purpose through the evil. And God certainly does not orchestrate the evil, as if Judas and the rest were just puppets that God manipulated. Judas acted freely and wickedly but what Judas meant for evil God turned to the greatest of goods. Jesus knew this. He knew that the hour was coming for this Father to accomplish the redemption of the world through his free submission to the wickedness of Judas and all his fellow malefactors.
In these latter days, we are tempted to see everyone around us as a “spies,” people poised to do us harm. Those people may not wish us harm, but they pose a danger to us, especially if they are not wearing masks or maintaining a distance of six feet. I don’t think we are tempted to blame these people or to regard them as malefactors, but we do have the sense of being surrounded by evil threats. We are certainly right to protect ourselves and our loved ones from potential sources of infection, just as Jesus eluded many attempted arrests and stonings before his hour had come. But the omnipresence of the “spy” in our midst need not make us anxious or angry or afraid. Neither should the workings of evils that surround us fool us into thinking that infection, isolation, stagnation, sickness, and death are what this chapter in our lives is all about.
Jesus was fully aware of the conspiracies of the “spies” who plotted to bring him down. But he knew that, according to his Father’s purpose, they would only manage to “lift up the Son of Man” (John 8:28) “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). Jesus had the peace of knowing that whatever the evildoers accomplished would, in the end, only contribute to the Glory of God and the fulfillment of His loving plan. On this “Spy Tuesday,” may the Lord Jesus bestow that same peace on all the disciples whom he loves.