In the Gospel for this Sunday we have what seems to me to be a very stark contrast in terms of discipleship. The passage begins ominously with the words 'When Judas had gone out'. It is the night before his Passion and Jesus has just foretold what Judas is about to do. Judas will go and betray Jesus into the hands of his enemies for a few pieces of silver.
In some ways though this should not surprise us or the other disciples of Jesus. He has form, as they say. We read earlier in John's Gospel that Judas complained about Mary wasting money anointing Jesus's feet with expensive nard. John makes the withering comment: 'He said this not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it'.
It would seem that, throughout his time accompanying Jesus in his ministry, Judas has not really understood what Jesus was trying to teach or really allowed the Spirit to enter his heart and transform him. Despite seeing all the miraculous signs of Jesus and living with the Word incarnate day and night, he has managed to resist the promptings of grace and has remained cold-hearted at worst, half-hearted at best. The lure of the things of this world, money or influence with the Jewish leaders, has triumphed over the less glamorous but infinitely more valuable road of true Christian discipleship.
It is easy to rush to a harsh judgement of Judas, but the Gospels provide little or no information about his motivations for betraying Jesus. Perhaps he, like the Jewish leaders of the time, believed that the greater good would be served if this troublemaker died rather than risk the wrath of the Roman authorities that would come from an insurgency. Perhaps he felt that Jesus was, after all, a false prophet trying to destroy the Jewish Law. No doubt like most of us Judas was a complex mixture of motivations with his inherent goodness competing with the attraction of sin and easy solutions.
By contrast, the call of Jesus is demanding; it drags us often kicking and screaming far beyond our self-constructed comfort zones, and we see this in the very example of Jesus's life. After Judas leaves the room, Jesus goes on to exhort his followers to a very different kind of discipleship - the way of love. And as the yardstick for how far they should go, he gives the example of his own life. 'I give you a new commandment: love one another: just as I have loved you, you also must love one another.'
This is the way of service to others, self-sacrifice and self-giving. Jesus has forcefully demonstrated what service is about when a few moments before he, the Master, knelt down to wash his own followers' feet. Jesus will go on to show the full measure of that love when he takes the burden of humanity's sins on his shoulders and, out of boundless love, endures the excruciating suffering of his Passion to free us from death so that by the power of his Resurrection we may all come to eternal life. He opens his arms on the cross to embrace and bring to himself all people, the sinful, the suffering, the weak and the broken.
But this self sacrificing way of love is not just some kind of pointless suffering. Under the humble appearance of loving service to our brothers and sisters each day is the way of glory. The letting go of the selfish ego to embrace God and neighbour is the way of true freedom and transfiguration.
Jesus shows us this clearly when he tells us that God will glorify him very soon. This glorification will occur in that moment of supreme self-giving upon the Cross, a moment that appears to the eyes of the world to be failure and death. But it is in fact the sure gate that leads to the glory of the Resurrection and eternal joy.
We too share this glory when each day we respond to the promptings of grace in loving others and ignore the temptation to selfishness and hardness of heart. When we are faithful each day to the way of life God has called us to in this moment, when we forgive the wrongs of others, are generous to those in need, are faithful to those we are called to work with and serve in our work, even in the smallest task, then we follow the way of Christian discipleship that is truly loving and self giving and is ultimately the way to glory and transfiguration.
In the wonderful words of Mother Teresa: 'I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.'