Peter And Judas. Homily for Palm Sunday
Two prime figures in the Gospel today are Peter and Judas. There are striking similarities between them. There are also striking differences.
Both were personally called and chosen by Jesus. Both belonged to his inner circle of intimate followers. He sent them out to preach the Good News, to anoint believers, to heal the sick, to expel demons. (Mark 6) Although the Scriptures are silent, from what we can surmise, both did so. Apparently, like many of the disciples, they were successful and effective.
They both had serious flaws. Judas was greedy, dishonest and duplicitous. Peter was impetuous, prideful and hot tempered. At the key moment during Jesus’ life, both failed Christ a terrible degree. Some would say, “But Judas got Jesus killed.” However, Peter denied the Lord three times. Three is a significant number in biblical literature. Three represents something that is “perfect.” Hence, Peter committed the “perfect betrayal.”
In the end, the fate of each was radically different. Judas took his life. Peter became the leader of the Church. Why the difference? What happened? Why were the end of their respective stories so different?
I see two differences. The first difference was The Cross. Peter experienced it. He experienced it in the fact that his Lord, his savior, and his friend died on it. Peter also experienced his cross in the depths of his emotions. He knew how much he had abandoned Christ when his Lord needed him the most. What Peter did not realize was the power of The Cross. By dying, the grace of The Cross had been poured out upon all mankind for the forgiveness of sin. Peter would later experience that grace – and Christ’s forgiveness – first hand. In comparison, Judas never experienced that grace. By the time Jesus had died on The Cross, and that grace was being poured out upon the world, Judas was already dead.
The second difference was the attitude of the two men towards Jesus. Jesus had no illusions about his disciples. Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would betray him” (John 6:65). He called them both out equally. In the case of Judas, He announced at the Passover meal that someone would betray Him (Matthew 26:24-25; Mark 14:18-21; Luke 22:21-23; John 13:21-30). At the same evening, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. Jesus knew the heart of Peter. He predicts Peter will deny Him three times (Matthew 26:30-35; Mark 14:26-31; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:33-38).
When you look at the Scriptures, it’s first interesting to note the difference between the way Peter and Judas relate to Jesus. Peter called Jesus “Lord.” In the Upper Room and in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas calls Jesus “Rabbi.” A title of honor certainly. But it does not recognize Jesus’ deity, power, or position as the Son of God. To Judas, in spite of all that he had seen and experienced, Jesus is just another man. Judas was totally self-absorbed. As one commentator wrote, “Judas could not bring himself to put His faith in Jesus Christ, which ultimately led to his downfall.”
The second issue with Judas was his pride. In the end, the grace of The Cross is missing. Judas cannot bring himself to forgive himself. His sin was so big, that not even the man known as “the savior” would be able to forgive him.
What’s the message for us? I’ve seen the tendency for people to make the same two mistakes that Judas made. The first one is very common in today’s secular society. We see Jesus as the kind, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, social worker. He’s nice. He’s safe. He’s not our Lord. A lord makes demands. A lord can order us to do things that we would just a soon not do. It can seem too much like that “rules and regulations church. That’s all about “religion.” “I’d just as soon live my life my own way, thank you very much. I’m spiritual, not religious.”
Others adapt a victim mentality. We get so caught up in our sin, that we begin to relish it. We love the attention we can garner from others who offer us their pity and comfort because of how desperate we are. We marinate in the fact that we are such big sinners. Not even Jesus can forgive us.
What does Jesus want from us? Speak the truth. He knows our Achilles heel. He know what tempts us specifically. Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners.” He just wants his friends to come to him honestly in our woundedness. Let Him carry the burden – just like He carried The Cross.