Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Peter and Judas: Similar but Very Different

This week is Palm Sunday, and the gospel reading at Mass is the entire Passion of Jesus. I’d like to focus on two other people mentioned in the Passion account: Judas and Peter.

On the night in question, Judas and Peter did some pretty bad stuff. Judas betrayed Jesus, accepting 30 pieces of silver as payment to lead the authorities to the private prayer garden so Jesus could be arrested. (Professor Peter Kreeft notes that Judas was the first Catholic bishop to accept a government grant. And ever since, when a Catholic bishop accepts government money, with all those secular strings attached, it turns out almost as badly.)

Peter, after proclaiming to Jesus a few hours earlier, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you!” collapsed like a two-dollar tent when a servant girl asked whether he was a friend of Jesus. Chicken-hearted Peter denied it by shouting, “Woman, I do not know him!”

Peter’s gutless lack of courage at that moment was even more pitiful in light of his pompous bragging earlier in the evening.

So, these two men, each a special member of Jesus’ inner circle, committed some grievous sins that night. Their lack of faith in Jesus caused them to do things that greatly hurt the Lord. We can argue about which sin was worse, but the bottom line is: sin is sin. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and, “The wages of sin is death.”

Shortly after committing these sins, both Judas and Peter were exceedingly sorry for what they had done. Right after hearing the cock crow, which reminded him of what Jesus said in reply to his pompous boast, Peter “went out and began to weep bitterly.”

When Judas realized that Jesus was going to be executed, which he apparently did not think would happen, the Bible says, “He repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver.” Then Judas exclaimed, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

At this point the two men’s lives took drastically different turns. Peter went into hiding with the other disciples, no doubt barely able to live with himself. He stuck it out and did not do anything rash or impulsive. Soon after, things got much better. Specifically, three days later when Jesus rose from the dead. The Lord forgave Peter, sent the Holy Spirit to empower the believers, and commissioned Peter to be the leader of the Church.

Judas was also distraught by what he had done. But he did not stick it out and wait to see what would happen next. And so, he did not receive forgiveness from the resurrected Jesus—which Jesus surely would have offered if Judas had only asked. Instead, Judas impulsively went out and committed suicide.

How incredibly sad. Two men with very similar experiences, but with very different endings. Despite his earthly failings, one became the leader of the early Church and is no doubt now and forevermore a member of the heavenly Communion of Saints. The other, with similar earthly failings, is presumably attending a very different gathering, one with a decidedly sulfurous atmosphere.

The lesson from the lives of these two men is simple: No matter how badly we screw up, no matter how terrible our sin, Jesus can and will forgive us. All we need to do is sincerely repent and sincerely ask for His forgiveness. Peter learned this was possible. Unfortunately, Judas did not.

There is a lot going on in the Passion account this week. As you’re listening, try to think about the lives of these two men and what they can teach us about sin and forgiveness.

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