Comparing and Contrasting
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:19 PM [+]
The following is a repost from 2005
Orthodox hymns and prayers love to do it, and tonight was probably one of the most blatant and recurring examples: Judas vs. the Harlot. Here's an excerpt:
As the sinful woman was bringing her offering of myrrh,
The disciple was scheming with lawless men
She rejoiced in pouring out her precious gift;
he hurried to sell the priceless one.
She recognized the Master, but Judas parted from Him.
She was set free, but Judas was enslaved to the enemy.
How terrible his avarice!
How great her repentance!
O Savior, who suffered for our sake,
Grant us also repentence, and save us.
The song goes on for several pages following the same swinging pattern: back and forth, comparing and contrasting the harlot and Judas. And the last couple of lines that I quoted also speak to another recurring theme: putting ourselves into the story and exhorting ourselves to recognize ourselves in the bad example and to seek the better example. If you think about some of the more common Orthodox prayers (i.e. pre-communion) you see this methodology is quite common.
But it isn't new. ["New" is a funny term I used here for obvious reasons.] The Gospel reading from tonight showed us the reasoning for this particular comparison, and the sequence of the two depicted events never really struck me until tonight.
St. Matthew 26
And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor."
But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?" And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.
When I was a big Ron Sider/social gospel kinda guy I might have said something similar to what the disciples said in regards to the perceived "waste" of money. I mean you expect a sage like Ghandi to say something along the lines of "No, my dear, sell that and give the money to the poor if you wish to honor me." But of course, Ghandi was not the incarnate God. That changes things.
It blows me away that RIGHT after dealing with the issue of wasted money, repentance, and his own death, Judas suddenly seeks to betray Jesus for money. Anyone else notice the sort of speed bump we jolted over in the scene change here? While many folks have tried to create sympathy for Judas: to try and understand HIS point of view on why he did what he did...we Orthodox are rather encouraged to flee becoming Judas and rather become the harlot, understanding that our lips are more unclean and more stained than her whose mouth says in the song:
Loose my debt as I have loosed my hair.
Love the woman, who though justly hated, loves You...
Look at me who am engulfed in sin,
in despair because of my evil deeds.
But in Your goodness do not despise me.
Grant me forgiveness of my evil deed, O Lord and save me...
O Son of the Virgin, though I am a prostitute, do not cast me aside.
O Joy of the angels, do not despise my tears.
As You did not reject me as a sinner.
Accept me now as a penitent, in Your great mercy.
The Journey continues...Last Supper tomorrow and then on firday we will answer in tears the old hymnal question: WERE YOU THERE?