Judas and the Harlot: The Midpoint of Orthodox Christian Holy Week

The halfway point of Orthodox Christian Holy Week begins, really, on Tuesday evening, with the Matins of Holy Wednesday. One of the characteristics of Holy Week is the way time is turned “upside down”. If immersed in the services, in contemplation of the events remembered, it sets a unique tone, which very much begins to feel “outside of time”. There is a disequilibrium that almost puts one into the place of those following Jesus during that week in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago. Events moved quickly for them. There were late nights, early mornings and unbelievable things happening. Holy Week is a remembering of this, and a re-living of it every year. So, every evening service is really an anticipation of the next day. We celebrate Pascha at the earliest possible point (beginning late in the evening on Saturday into the early morning hours on Sunday) for the sake of proclaiming the Resurrection at the very earliest moment we can. There is great anticipation of the most important announcement in human history “Christ is Risen!”

At the very center of focus at the halfway point of Holy Week is the story, the decision, of two very different people: Judas Iscariot and the Harlot who anoints Jesus’ feet. Consider for a minute these two people, where they begin, what they choose, and what the result is. Judas was among the disciples of the Lord. He had a place of great privilege, not only being able to travel with Jesus, see miracles, hear teachings, and be present with the Lord, but he was even entrusted with some of the practical administration of the group. He was the treasurer. The Harlot at Jesus’ feet was not in a place of privilege. She was despised, discarded in society, and hated. She had not been present with the Lord. We do not know what she had been present to see or even hear about Jesus ministry and healings. At the beginning of the story, she and Judas could not be farther apart as far as social status, regard, or even knowledge of Jesus. By the end of the story, they also couldn’t be farther apart, but in a very different way.

They both have sins which they must address. For the Harlot, it is her lifestyle, her life as a prostitute. For Judas, we are told, even before the moment when he is tempted to betray Jesus, that he struggled with the sin of love of money. Both of them have to deal with their sins. The Harlot, without a multitude of words, simply bows at Jesus’ feet, and with her tears makes her confession. The Lord receives her as she is, she has truly repented, and she leaves forgiven and liberated. Judas, on the other hand, becomes more and more entrenched in his love of money. He resents the woman for pouring out costly myrrh on Jesus’ feet. Her confession and absolution enrages him further. He could have repented at any point, yet he does not. In the hymns of the services of Holy Wednesday, Judas is characterized as envious, angry, and slothful. Slothful in that he does not deal with his sin, he gives in to it. The Woman who anointed Jesus’ feet is not slothful. She acts. She repents. The hymns of the Church characterize her with words of lightness, freedom, and joy, such a contrast to Judas spiral of sin upon sin, which weighs him down and ultimately crushes him.

At the midpoint of Holy Week we are faced with these examples in order to examine our own lives and consider the two ways – the way of Judas and the way of the Woman who anoints Jesus’ feet. It matters very little where we begin, what status we have, or what sin we have recognized in ourselves. What matters is what we do about it. Do we see Our Lord and fall at His feet, trusting in His mercy and love for us, or do we despise His love and His forgiveness by holding on to our sins? Do we turn from our sin towards Our Lord, leaving the old life behind, or do we rush out of the room, seeking a way to further feed our sin? Most of all, consider the results of these two lives. See the great joy and freedom which the woman experiences versus the despair and bitterness experienced by Judas. The choice is clear, but we must decide and act.

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