The Holy Spirit. The Third Person of the Holy Trinity. The Lord, the Giver of Life.
And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. [Luke 1:35]*
*The Douay translation uses the term “Holy Ghost” and I will keep to that, but for my exposition I will continue to use “Holy Spirit”.
The Paraclete, the Comforter. Blasphemy against Him is the one unforgivable sin. We have no choice but to know Him. But how can we know Him? We can “watch Him in action", so to speak.
Stories of Three
I'd like to begin with a quick look at the spiritual importance, if you will, of things happening in three’s.
All 4 Gospels relate that Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times before the crowing of the cock, and that it happened the way He said it would. (The Gospel of Mark makes a finer distinction.) Peter only realized what he had done afterward, and he felt very guilty. Later, following the Resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. After the third time, “Peter was grieved…” [John 21:17] Why was Peter grieved?
Well, clearly because Jesus was reminding him of his three denials. Peter’s response was defensive, “And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”
Later, in the Book of Acts (chapter 11), Peter saw a vision of a vessel like a great sheet let down from heaven, and there were all manner of animals on it, including nonkosher animals.
And I heard also a voice saying to me: Arise, Peter; kill and eat. And I said: Not so, Lord; for nothing common or unclean hath ever entered into my mouth. And the voice answered again from heaven: What God hath made clean, do not thou call common. And this was done three times: and all were taken up again into heaven.” [Verses 7-10]
So we have three denials, followed by three affirmations, each followed by Jesus telling Peter to feed His flock. Then we have three instances in a vision of Peter being told what to feed His flock. Peter describes this vision as representing that the Gospel should also be preached to the Gentiles. Something about this threefold repetition of events is important in the life of the Spirit.
The Gospel of St. John: The Last Supper
And when supper was done, (the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray him,) [John 13:2]
In the 13th chapter, after the passover feast, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. He approached Peter, who got indignant. It’s always fun to watch Jesus and Peter interact.
Jesus answered, and said to him: What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith to him: Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him: If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with me. Simon Peter saith to him: Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head. [verses 8-9]
Instantly realizing he had put his (now clean) foot in his mouth again, he overreacted- "Wash my hands and my head, too!"
Jesus saith to him: He that is washed, needeth not but to wash his feet, but is clean wholly. And you are clean, but not all. For he knew who he was that would betray him; therefore he said: You are not all clean. [v/ 10-11]
Jesus quickly turned him down, and just as quickly switched gears to make another point.
Jesus then admonished them all to be as Himself, and wash each others’ feet. He told them that if He is their Master and Lord, then they must follow His example.
Amen, amen I say to you: The servant is not greater than his lord; neither is the apostle greater than he that sent him. [v.16]
So if the Lord washed the feet of His disciples, He emphasized His humility, and insisted that they be humble, too. Then He said,
If you know these things, you shall be blessed if you do them. I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen. But that the scripture may be fulfilled: He that eateth bread with me, shall lift up his heel against me. At present I tell you, before it come to pass: that when it shall come to pass, you may believe that I am he. [v.17-19]
He put them on notice that something was going to happen. First He said, “You are clean, but not all.” Now He said, “He that eateth bread with me, shall lift up his heel against me.” Knowing His hour was coming, He moved it along. In this way, modern popularizers suggest that He was even in league with Judas, that they colluded, that Judas was doing what he was told. A conspiracy theory is formed, JFK orders his own assassination.
I have to return to a favorite theme of my own- it is that the passage of time has encouraged these conspiratorial nuances. Centuries ago it was more black & white, but today we ignore the immediacy of the moment and insist that this passion play was old when it happened.
Let’s try to see it once again with fresh eyes. Remember there was a time when this was actually happening. Jesus says next,
Amen, amen I say to you, he that receiveth whomsoever I send, receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me. When Jesus had said these things, he was troubled in spirit; and he testified, and said: Amen, amen I say to you, one of you shall betray me. [v.20-21]
Jesus said, “he that receiveth whomsoever I send”, meaning His disciples, “receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me”, meaning the Father. And then He was “troubled in spirit”.
Notice that, once again, it is the third time that He spoke something that it came to pass. First statement: “You are clean, but not all.” Second statement: “He that eateth bread with me, shall lift up his heel against me.” Finally, the third statement: “I say to you, one of you shall betray me.”
Now, after Jesus told them in plain Aramaic, “one of you shall betray me,” He got a reaction:
The disciples therefore looked one upon another, doubting of whom he spoke. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, and said to him: Who is it of whom he speaketh? He therefore, leaning on the breast of Jesus, saith to him: Lord, who is it? Jesus answered: He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And when he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the morsel, Satan entered into him. And Jesus said to him: That which thou dost, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew to what purpose he said this unto him. For some thought, because Judas had the purse, that Jesus had said to him: Buy those things which we have need of for the festival day: or that he should give something to the poor. He therefore having received the morsel, went out immediately. And it was night. [v.22-30]
Verse 21 relates that Jesus was troubled in spirit just prior to His third utterance. He knew He had to set events in motion. The human part of Him, the part in time and space with us, received promptings from the Spirit. It was in obedience to the will of the Father that He obeyed these promptings. Right here we have a marvelous and instructive example of the interplay between the Three Persons of the Trinity, how the movement of the Spirit played out in salvation history.
Why did the disciples now react? Keep in mind, Jesus is the Son of God. Greater than the prophets. His word is Truth. If He says something, it will come true. So once He said, “one of you shall betray me”, that was it. It was a prophetic utterance. It must therefore happen. This was actually the key moment. The die was cast, the cat was out of the bag, however you want to say it, as soon as Jesus said this.
“He was troubled in Spirit...”
“After the morsel, Satan entered into him.”
Jesus received prompting from the Spirit, and as a result of His utterance and actions, Satan entered Judas. What spiritual undercurrents were running here? Does even Satan obey the Holy Spirit?
What was the morsel? It was a piece of the bread of the Last Supper, unleavened bread that was dipped in wine and absorbed it. What did it mean for Jesus to give it to Judas? When Jesus gave this dipped unleavened bread to Judas, Satan entered him. Somehow, where ordinarily the receiving of this bread from Christ is a sacrament, in Judas' case it was a curse. (Yet another reminder to receive communion in a state of grace: "Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord." [1 Corinthians 11:27])
The question that has arisen from this is: Was Judas responsible for his own actions? Did Jesus push him into it? On the surface it seems like it. What if Jesus hadn’t responded to the urgings of the Spirit, had not spoken the fateful words, “One of you shall betray me?”
When he therefore was gone out, Jesus said: Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God also will glorify him in himself; and immediately will he glorify him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You shall seek me; and as I said to the Jews: Whither I go you cannot come; so I say to you now. A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another. Simon Peter saith to him: Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered: Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow hereafter. Peter saith to him: Why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thee. Jesus answered him: Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Amen, amen I say to thee, the cock shall not crow, till thou deny me thrice. [v.31-38]
Quick review of the pattern of three's:
Jesus in three instances refers to His betrayal, the third time the most distinctly. The apostles react.
Jesus tells Peter that he will deny Him three times.
Peter denies Jesus three times. The third time, the cock crows, and he realizes it and reacts.
Jesus, in a clear reminder of the three denials, tells Peter three times to feed His flock. The third time, Peter reacts.
Peter is shown a vision three times of a vessel and told to kill and eat, even the unclean animals. The first two times he refuses, but then the third time he accepts it.
Each of these instances is pivotal. Jesus refers to His betrayal by Judas. He tells Peter that he will deny Him. Peter denies Him. Jesus reminds Peter of his denials by telling him three times to feed His flock. And Peter is shown a vision three times before agreeing to open up his diet to animals that were previously prohibited.
And in the middle of all this Judas was given a dipped morsel of bread, and Satan entered him.
Remember the lens of history we are looking through. As a result of these actions, the God of the Israelites became the God of the Romans. After Jesus was crucified, His disciples and subsequently His Christian followers would alter the spiritual fabric of the Roman Empire. The very people who destroyed Jerusalem and drove the Jews into Diaspora would become worshippers of Yahweh as the Father of Jesus.
Now we know something else about the “crucifixion strategy” that God had undertaken. It faked out Satan. St. Paul wrote:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew; for if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory. [1 Corinthians 2:7-8]
This is a remarkable strategy, and I think we are catching a glimpse of its inner workings in the above narrative.
Back to verse 21, “When Jesus had said these things, he was troubled in spirit...”
”Troubled in Spirit”. Jesus, the Son of Man, God become a human being in time and space to perform a work of salvation for humanity, is fully human and fully God. His obedience to the will of the Father is His proper response to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Despite that Spirit pushing Him to the death of His physical body, He obeys. But this Spiritual push is from God. Jesus through His perfect obedience obeys God, and it is not suicide, and it is not violence. He does not die in battle, He does not kill Himself in such a way as to kill others with Him. He merely puts Himself into a position that “forces” the Pharisees and the Roman authorities to do that which they are predisposed to do based on their worldly belief systems.
Jesus gave the morsel to Judas. Judas was going to betray Jesus anyway. Jesus just appointed the time. It happened when He was prepared. So why does Satan play along here? Does he, or Judas, have any choice in the matter?
Let’s examine this a little. What choices does Satan really have? We are told in the Gospel narratives of the temptation in the wilderness that the kingdoms of the world were his to give. God basically takes for Himself the lowliest things. He chooses a people, who are not great in number. He establishes His kingdom through a highly counterintuitive strategy, one that was unique in its time, of martyrdom. Previously, it was power and strength that conquered. This is after all the height of the Roman Empire. With Christianity, the power of example was introduced into the world. Jesus was the example for His followers. As He told them, if He washed their feet, they must be prepared to follow His example and wash each others’ feet, as He is their Lord and Master. Very counterintuitive in terms of the world- Peter was shocked and embarrassed when his Master was washing his feet. In the wake of the Christianization of the Roman Empire, well what do you know, all the world figured out that martyrdom is powerful. But they twisted it, trying to call fighters “martyrs” when they died in battle, which certainly the Moslems did, and even the Christians, pursuing power for power’s sake, eventually did. As with everything else, every time God introduces a novel idea, Satan incorporates it as his own, albeit with an evil twist. He never gets it right, though. He can’t, because to get it right would require being good, and only God is good.
And that’s where the explanation lies. God’s punishment is that He withdraws Himself. When He does, He removes the very idea of the good. Left without that, one is left only with the mechanics. Therefore, when Jesus tells Judas to do what he will do, He sends him on his way to fulfill the will of God, but emptily. Judas does it, but by rote. While there is a good to his action, in that it brings the crucifixion and the salvation of the world, it is not good in and of itself, and so Judas is unable to recognize his part as good, and so is filled with Satan, sees his evil, and eventually kills himself.
This all brings up another question, which again the Roman Catholic Church answered over 1000 years ago. It’s so nice to be in the Church that has “the full deposit of faith.”
When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said:
And going a little further, he fell upon his face, praying, and saying: My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. [Matthew 26:39]
One of the numerous heresies that was condemned by the Church was that of monotheletism, or “one will”-ism. This stated that Jesus had one will, that of His divine nature. This was condemned by Rome as bordering on monophysitism, or “one nature”-ism. Jesus, according to Catholic teaching, and it is true because the teaching or magisterium of the Church on matters of faith and morals is infallible, has Two natures (human and divine), and Two wills (ditto). This is how Jesus was perfect, because He was perfectly obedient to the will of the Father.
For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. [Philippians 2:5-8]
So, as we have seen in this chapter, whenever Jesus’ human will might diverge from that of His divine purpose, He submitted to the movement of the Holy Spirit and did the Father’s will instead. This is part of how He reconciles us to God the Father, by providing us with the perfect example of submitting our will to His.
I don't think it is going too far, as a matter of fact I think it is needful, to see in this example of our Lord the means by which we, too, can and must respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit, through the obedience of our will to His. The all-important question is how do we discern the movement of the Spirit