If you were brought up in a Baptist church tradition, you’re probably not very aware of the rituals and practices that are part of the pattern of worship and devotion during “Holy Week,” the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. You certainly know about “Good Friday.” and you may have heard of “Maundy Thursday.” But are you aware that today is “Spy Wednesday”?
The name comes from the fact that this incident happened during the Wednesday of Jesus’ last week on earth:
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:3-6)
This is how Spy Wednesday got its nickname. Judas the Spy “began to look for an opportunity,” just as modern spies do.
In Brussels, Belgium, some spies associated with ISIS were looking for an opportunity, and yesterday they acted, setting off bombs that killed and wounded scores of people. We call their actions “terrorism.” They say they’re acting out of their Islamic faith. Other Muslims insist that Islam is a religion of peace, not violence. Some Christians accept this distinction; others view all Muslims as potential terrorists. Some Christians believe the right response to all of this should be love and prayer; others think the only effective answer would be guns and bombs. Most Americans seem to feel that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security needs to increase its own spying to limit the possibility of terrorism on our soil. Spying is in the air.
This parallel should remind us how intertwined religion and politics can be. Usually, we read the New Testament accounts about Jesus, emphasizing his spiritual message, while glossing over all the indications that he lived his life in an occupied country and in an atmosphere of political intrigue, whispered plots and threatened rebellion. Among his disciples there was one man who actually identified himself as a “Zealot,” someone whose goal was to overthrow Roman rule. Jesus’ own teaching, that the Kingdom of God was drawing near, was often misread as a threat of insurrection. Even the sarcastic sign posted on his cross, “This is the King of the Jews,” was a reminder of how easy it was for Jesus’ mission to be seen as political.
Spy Wednesday reminds us that we live in a difficult world, where it’s hard to be completely spiritual, where the darker side of human society and culture infects us even when we are involved in our noblest ventures. There always seem to be spies ready to betray us by twisting our efforts to live the Jesus life into a caricature of him.
So on Spy Wednesday, let’s watch out for “Judas,” the one among us who keeps reinterpreting our true spiritual impulses into worldly endeavors, like making money, building institutions, establishing rules and regulations. And each of us should be aware of the “Judas” inside, that part of us that cheapens the gospel and tries to turn it into a system that works to our advantage (which is kind of what politics does to religion). Our true gospel mission is the salvation of lost souls through the death of Jesus at the hands of leaders who executed him as a dangerous terrorist. Finally, God uses the politics of Jesus’ day to accomplish his spiritual goals.
– George Van Alstine