Palm Sunday 2017, Year A – April 9
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
What’s the difference for you between Judas and Peter? In Matthew’s account of the Passion, Judas is paid a lot of attention. As the Passion Narrative begins, the first person we hear about is Judas. Peter plays a prominent role as well. We could argue that they are very different people.
It’s tempting to cast Judas as the bad guy and Peter as the good guy. We do that with stories, even bible stories. We look for someone to blame and we look for a hero. In our own lives we fear being the bad guy who is to blame for everything that has gone wrong in our lives. We want to be the hero that makes everything come out right.
Judas is certainly a bad guy. He betrays Jesus. His act of betrayal is premeditated. And it is entangled with greed. He goes to the chief priests and asks, “’What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.” In the Garden of Gethsemane the premeditated and furtive betrayal takes place. As if showing Jesus respect and admiration he embraces Jesus and kisses him on the cheek. That is the signal for the officials to arrest Jesus.
Judas is who we would never want to be. He is fearful, greedy, conniving, surreptitious, self-centered. He doesn’t just fall into an evil act. He seeks it out and carries it through.
Peter seems much different. Peter means well. He wants to do good and be good. “I will never desert you, Jesus”. But of course he does. His actions are basically the same as Judas but his heart seems purer and we want to give him credit for that. We want Peter to be the good guy. We want Judas to be the bad guy. At least Peter didn’t plan it out. At least Peter didn’t take any money. He didn’t betray him with a kiss.
And, in the story, the outcome for Peter and Judas is so different. There is redemption for Peter. He denies Jesus three times but, when Jesus looks at him after the cock has crowed, we can feel Peter’s remorse. “I didn’t mean it Jesus. I love you. I didn’t do it on purpose. It just happened before I could stop myself. Please forgive me.” In the silence we can hear Peter saying all those things.
It’s tempting to put the participants into either the good guy or bad guy categories. But the whole Passion Narrative is told to make sure we know that all the characters play a role in the evil act of the crucifixion. There are no good guys in the Passion Narrative. All betray. All are sinful. All participate. And the story is told to make sure we know all these years later that we would have done the same thing, that we continue even today to deny and betray and participate in the ongoing crucifixion of our Lord and Savior. Not only would we have done the same thing, we keep doing it. We keep seeking our own will above the will God. We want to separate the world into good guys and bad guys, betrayers and heroes. But we all fall short. We all participate in sin. We’re all the same.
What’s the difference between Judas and Peter? The story ends with redemption for Peter. Jesus comes back after the resurrection, specifically asks to see Peter, and forgives him, charges him to tend the flock. Judas is lost. We may attribute that to the remorsefulness of Peter and the seeming lack of remorse by Judas. But Matthew’s gospel makes it clear that Judas is wracked with guilt and full of remorse. Matthew even says that Judas repented. He had a change of heart. He took the money back. He wanted to take back his actions. At that moment he and Peter are just alike. They both see what they have done and they are sorry.
Peter’s remorse leads to redemption. Judas’s remorse leads him to hang himself. That’s the big difference. Even in his despair Peter keeps putting one foot in front of the other. He stays in touch with the community of faith. How hard that must have been to face others when they know he has denied the Lord. Peter accepts his despair and lives with it. Judas reacts to his despair and ends his life. Had he just lived with the despair things would have turned out so differently. Had he just kept on we might have as many St. Judas churches as we do St. Peter churches. Had he just kept on the same redemption that came to Peter would have come to Judas.
Our Christian faith is hope and assurance. Hope and assurance that redemption is offered to all. Hope and assurance that even the things we never see being redeemed and made new will in the fullness of time indeed be redeemed and made new. Judas is lost but our Christian faith tells us that he is not lost for all time. If you think that the sin of Judas is so great that God can’t redeem it, you are saying that God is smaller than Judas.
The good guys don’t get saved while the bad guys get condemned. We’re all bad guys and we are all offered salvation throughout all eternity. We might be tempted to divide the world into Judases and Peters but the truth is more likely that there are times when we are Judas and times when we are Peter, times when we know we are forgiven and times when we give into despair and can’t know the love of God for us. The love of God is extended to all of us, each of us all of the time. It is not caused by our attempts to be good. It is caused because God causes it. All are forgiven. Sometimes we know it. Sometimes we can’t know it. All the time it is there and real.
Don’t put you sins in front of God’s grace. Nothing you have done or will ever do will make God love you less, or more. If you think that your sins or the sins of anyone are so great that God can’t redeem them, then you are saying that God is smaller than we are. We’re all guilty and we’re all redeemed by the love of God that we see in our Savior Jesus Christ.