Embracing the True Essence of Love: Reflections on Holy Wednesday
Embracing the True Essence of Love: Reflections on Holy Wednesday

As Archbishop Daniel graced the St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, OH, presiding over the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts on May 1, 2024, the cathedral parish congregation embarked on a profound journey of spiritual contemplation. Amidst the sacred ambiance, led by the very Rev. Fr. Michael Hontaruk and Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay, accompanied by the melodious chants guided by Oleh Mahlay, the essence of Holy and Great Wednesday resonated deeply.

At the heart of Archbishop Daniel's sermon lay a poignant reflection on the betrayal of Jesus by Judas - a narrative steeped not only in historical significance but also in timeless lessons of human frailty and the complexities of love. He elucidated how, amidst the tender bonds of discipleship, Judas' betrayal stemmed from a distorted perception of love, entangled in the web of materialism and worldly desires.

In the modern tapestry of existence, Archbishop Daniel's words serve as a guiding light, inviting introspection into the depths of our own hearts. How often do we, like Judas, succumb to the allure of temporal gains, forsaking the purity of love and fidelity to our spiritual journey?

Reflecting on the meaning of 30 pieces of silver that Judas received, Vladyka Daniel stated: "Have you ever been betrayed by someone you trusted? Perhaps even a friend? Using words like trust, betrayal, and friend in a sentence doesn’t paint a comforting picture. Yet, our savior was betrayed and sold for 30 pieces of silver. Today when we hear the phrase, it immediately brings to mind a traitor or someone who would sell out a friend. There is also a level of curiosity that surrounds the coins. What exactly did Judas receive to betray Jesus? Was it worth it to him?

In the weeks leading up to Pascha, we find an interesting story nestled in the book of Matthew. In the Gospel of St. Matthew 26: 6-13, we find Jesus in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper. As he reclines, a woman enters the house with a repentant heart, praise, respect, and adoration of Jesus. She proceeds to break customs and approaches Jesus with an expensive jar of Alabaster perfume. She pours it over his head and washes his feet with her tears.

All the men attending the event are in shock. How dare Jesus let a lowly woman touch him. And how dare she waste an entire jar of rich perfume. The disciples are said to be indignant that this extravagant gift was being wasted when it could have been sold and used to help the poor. Yet, as Jesus heard their words, he turned and commended the heart of this woman when he explained she had poured out the perfume for his burial as she spared no expense to honor him.

In the very next verse, Matthew reveals Judas Iscariot, a disciple of Jesus was secretly negotiating and plotting with the Chief Priests for Jesus. Judas was willing to be paid just 30 pieces of silver for the betrayal of his Rabbi and one true King.

One woman, a sinner who was so aware of her iniquities, spared no expense in honoring Christ. Yet, a disciple and a few men who thought they were righteous  - not in any need of saving - plotted his death for the price of a slave’s burial according to Mosaic Law.

In the Hebrew culture, thirty pieces of silver was not a lot of money. In fact, it was the exact price paid to the master of a slave if and when his slave was gored by an ox (Exodus 21:32). In order to compensate for a slave’s death and burial, it was written into law that 30 pieces of silver would account for the cost.

Where Else Are 30 Pieces of Silver Mentioned in the Bible?

There are two other places in the Bible where thirty pieces of silver are mentioned. The first passage is found in Zechariah which contains a prophecy that is later fulfilled and linked to the book of Matthew.

In the book of Zachariah, God had the prophet play the part of a shepherd and care for a flock that was “doomed to be slaughtered,” (Zechariah 11: 4-14). God wanted to his life as a way to illustrate what judgment would look like against Israel when they crucified their Savior. It also predicted the fall of Israel in AD 70 and how the nation was scattered.

There are several elements we need to pay close attention to in this passage that point to the prophecy about Jesus.

  1. Zechariah says he “got rid of the three shepherds” of the doomed flock (verse 8).

The “three shepherds” is a likely reference to the three religious offices during Jesus’ day that worked to condemn Jesus. These are the scribes, the chief priests and the elders (Matthew 16;21).

  1. Zechariah breaks his two shepherding staffs.

The first one is named Favor. It is broken to symbolize the breaking of the Mosaic Covenant for those who disobeyed God and how God then set aside His favor of His people to allow judgment to come upon them (Zachariah 11:10). The second staff named Union is then broken. It represented the breaking of the nations by Roman rule.

  1. Zachariah is paid 30 pieces of silver after working as a shepherd.

Those whom Zachariah worked for paid him what they thought he was worth – enough for a slave’s accidental death. When they gave him the 30 pieces of silver, his response was full of sarcasm and called it “a handsome price” because it was so little (Zachariah 11:13). However, the employers had meant to insult Zechariah purposely, and in return, God tells him to “throw it to the potter,” which Zechariah tossed the money into the house of the Lord in order for it to be given to “the Potter.”

Why Is This Meaning Significant?

The events that unfolded in Zechariah are a prophecy of what was to come with Jesus’ death. Jesus was willing to die a save’s death to sin for the sake of you and me. And Judas fell into the hands of the enemy so that Christ would pay our debt.

When Judas Iscariot bargained with the leaders of Israel for the betrayal of Jesus, he asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him to you?” The leaders then counted out a mere “thirty pieces of silver,” (Matthew 26:15). They considered the cost of Jesus’ death to be that of a slave. Later, when Judas was overcome with guilt for betraying Jesus, he fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy and threw all he was paid into the temple (Matthew 27: 3-5). Then the leaders used the money to buy a field from a potter as Zechariah had predicted (Matthew 27: 6-10). After that, Judas went to that field and hung himself.

In considering the real price that was placed on Jesus it is important to look at the words from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2: 5-11.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Notice how in verse seven, Apostle Paul describes Jesus as taking on the form of a servant, some versions use the term bondservant. Paul uses the Greek word, “doulos” which literally means slave. The significance of the 30 pieces of silver ties the Old Testament to the New Testament and reveals how Jesus was willing to humble himself and offer himself up upon the cross, to purchase what we could never afford. He was the only worth price for our forgiveness in the eyes of God. Judas sold Jesus for the price of a slave as Christ laid down his life as the ultimate give for you and me.

No wonder the woman with the alabaster jar poured out that expensive perfume. She knew what everyone did not and did what she could to honor him as worthy of and as our Savoir, Lord, and King!

Holy Wednesday serves as a tender reminder - a call to recalibrate our moral compasses, to disentangle the threads of selfish ambition and materialism from the fabric of genuine love and devotion. It beckons us to embrace the true essence of love - not merely a transactional exchange, but a boundless, selfless force that transcends earthly confines.

As we traverse the Lenten path, let us heed Archbishop Daniel's spiritual guidance, weaving the threads of love and faith into the tapestry of our lives. Let us strive to emulate the unwavering devotion of the disciples, anchoring ourselves in the eternal truths of compassion, humility, and sacrificial love.

In the hallowed space of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, amidst the fragrance of incense and the resonance of sacred hymns, Holy Wednesday emerges as a beacon of hope - a reminder of the transformative power of love, guiding us towards the radiant dawn of spiritual enlightenment.

Embracing the True Essence of Love: Reflections on Holy Wednesday

Photos by Subdeacon Mykola Stefanyk

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