Part Three – Tuesday & Wednesday of Holy Week
Holy Week and The Paschal Mysteries: The Betrayals of Peter & Judas
Today and tomorrow, through listening to the scriptural accounts of the betrayals of Judas and Peter, we are invited to continue to reflect in various ways on our own relationship with Jesus, but also on the nature of the Church itself. That is, the Church not in its divine aspect of being holy because Christ Himself is the Holy One of God. But the human element which is the sinful members who cause scandal and because of whom many others turn away from the Church and worse, from Christ. We children of God, members of the mystical body of Christ the Church often do our best to destroy the Church from the inside out. We are not actively aware of the cost of our salvation, and we do not seek to increasingly ‘put on the mind of Christ’.
Many would even destroy the unity of the Church in the name of saving it, forgetting that it is not our mission to save the Church, rather it is our mission to be concerned about the state of our own souls and the salvation of the world. God will ensure the Church continues, we must trust, listen, and obey. Despite our sins and the scandals caused, it remains true that it is through the sacramental life of the Church that we are formed as God’s holy people. That it is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church over which the gates of hell will never prevail. It is through the Church that Christ continues His saving work of teaching, sanctifying, and governing His flock.
Today and tomorrow the living Word of God speaks to us of the betrayals of Judas and Peter and through reflection on their relationships with Jesus we can be moved to a deeper contemplation of the freeing and reconciling mercy and love of God for ourselves as well as the alternative option to reject God’s love and mercy.
We can see more clearly that if we do not remain open to God, seek healing and forgiveness, we will not experience the fullness of life in the Spirit but rather we will find ourselves increasingly bitter and angry toward God and others, unforgiving and ultimately becoming mired in our despair. If we are to continue to enter more deeply into the paschal mysteries which we celebrate in the liturgies of this Holy Week, the institution of the Eucharist, the Sacramental Priesthood, the passion and death of the Lord, and His Resurrection; we must increasingly realize our need for God and the destruction which is wrought in the Church and the world by our individual, communal and institutional sins.
In today’s Gospel reading we are introduced to the coming betrayals of two of Jesus’ closest friends. Tomorrow we will hear a little bit more about the betrayal of Judas, who, looking into the eyes of Jesus, dares to say ‘surely it’s not I Rabbi’ even as the 30 pieces of silver weigh him down. Although we don’t have the rest of their stories in these Gospel readings, we are very well familiar with how their stories end.
In all four Gospels, Judas is mentioned by name as one of the twelve prayerfully chosen apostles. He had a position of trust. How is it possible that a disciple chosen to be an Apostle could have possibly betrayed the Savior? How could he be deceived into betraying God’s only Son for 30 pieces of silver? He was among a select few who spent more time with Jesus than anyone else, privileged to be around Jesus during His three and a half years of ministry on Earth. They prayed with Him, ate with Him, and enjoyed deep, personal conversations with Him. He went out with the others to spread the Good News, to repent and believe, the Kingdom of God was at hand.
St. John notes that Judas was the treasurer, he held the apostle’s moneybag, which we could rightly expect to be a position of trust given to a person with integrity. Yet, John also notes that Judas was without integrity having no concern for the poor and who would help himself to the money. John 12:6 This sin appears to be the one that he struggled with the most, and ultimately, failed to overcome.
And, what of Peter? Peter and Judas both struggled with sin throughout their time with Jesus during His earthly ministry - one with pride and a quick temper and one with greed. Yet both were blessed, and both were chosen. Judas might have argued that the denial by Peter was in fact a great sin than his own since Peter knew who Jesus Christ was, though without full understanding. The Holy Spirit had given insight to Peter about the true nature of Jesus, and he was present at Jesus’ transfiguration! He knew he was the Son of the Living God. It seems Judas was not so sure and combined with his greed and zealous desire for Jesus to fulfill his messianic expectations, was not able to overcome his anger and disappointment but rather succumbed to the working of the enemy.
There are several times in the Gospels where Peter boldly claimed He would go to war for Jesus. That arrogance was so strong that even when Jesus predicted his denial, Peter didn’t flinch. In Matthew it says, “Peter answered him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!’’ And all the disciples said the same” Matthew 26:33-35 And yet, Peter disowned his Savior to save himself pain and struggle, no less a betrayal than that of Judas.
They witnessed the same miracles, were taught the same truths, experienced the same rejection, and had the opportunity to ask Jesus anything about the Kingdom of Heaven. But on the night of Passover, both chose to betray Jesus. Judas handed the Rabbi over to the religious leaders for financial gain; Peter denied knowing the Lord. What made the difference between these two is one saw Jesus Christ as his Savior, the other failed to see who his savior was, and moved to despair, hung himself. Both betrayed their Lord, but only one repented. Judas saw the same wonders and learned the same lessons from Jesus as the other apostles and disciples. He did not put his faith in Jesus like Peter. This difference in belief about who Jesus was is the crucial difference between Judas and Peter.
Perhaps the clearest indication that Judas felt differently about Jesus than the other disciples is how he addressed Jesus. Judas failed to understand who Jesus really was, even to the end. When John and the other apostles, including Simon Peter, were faced with the possibility of betraying Jesus, they called Him “Lord.” Judas called Him “Rabbi.” While this Hebrew word for teacher was a title of honor, of distinction, and acknowledging Jesus’ knowledge of the Old Testament, it did not acknowledge Jesus’ deity, power, and proper place as the Son of God. It does not even concede that Jesus may have been the Messiah. To Judas, Jesus was just a man. Even when he recanted his betrayal, and went back to the religious leaders, he says, “‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood’” (Matthew 27:3a). He felt guilty that he betrayed someone who did not commit a crime, who was condemned rather than the murderer Barabbas. He did not acknowledge that he betrayed the Messiah. He did not repent.
In our focus up to this point maybe some here today, reflecting on the scriptures of today and tomorrow might see themselves in the betrayal of Judas. Possibly because of their past and maybe even in their present sinful actions. Others may see themselves in the betrayal of Peter. Two very different kinds of portrayals, but betrayals, nonetheless. But we can also consider their betrayals in a communal sense as they relate to the ‘Mystical Body of Christ’ the Church.
Remember, these accounts take place during the last supper. What do we celebrate on Holy Thursday in commemoration of that event? We celebrate the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood. It’s certain that for a variety of reasons and most especially timing, Judas did not become a priest that evening, but Peter did. So, we can say that they not only are representative our personal sins and need for God, but also represent the Church in the sense of the sinfulness of the human element of the Church. Judas can be seen as representing the laity, and Peter the Priests.
From its very inception the Church was made of broken people that the Lord has chosen for his own, which makes no sense to us. But it ought to move us to recognize our own sins, whether Priest or laity and come to a deeper understanding of the effects in our world and our Church. The incredibly devastating, destructive effects. We could speak of the ‘sins’ of all people, but we must most especially remember the sins of the children of God, disciples who are held to a much higher account because we know the truth. We the members of this body of Christ willfully fall short of the glory of God and this effects the Church. It affects the witness of the church in the world. It affects the way in which God can work. We know there are people who reject the church worse, even Christ because of the sins of the children of God, both in the pews and Priests. That we cause scandal.
They are in our families and witness our hypocrisy. They see what we say to each other on social media. They read about our sins and lack of love for each other in the news. New disciples, new members of the parishes see and hear the way in which we even treat each other in Church, the way we categorize each other as being so called good Catholics or bad Catholics, liberal Catholics or conservative, Orthodox, or not. Although those may be in some ways accurate descriptors of where we stand at a given moment in our journey with God, they don't define us. The way we love each other in our brokenness and in our failures that defines us.
If we were truly loving each other and seeking the mercy of God, then like Peter who humbled himself after his betrayal we would seek the forgiveness, mercy, and healing of God for ourselves and freely offer forgiveness, mercy to others and petition God in prayer for others so much more than complain about their sinfulness. There are many in the Church today who argue it is their responsibility to call out and oppose in any way necessary, those who are not true Catholics. But it does seem interesting that there is no word in the gospel about the brothers of Peter or other disciples publicly shaming him for his denial. The church was still built upon that rock. Even Judas, other than an objective articulation of his character, there is no ‘bashing’ of Judas in scripture.
I wonder, if choosing the first Pope had been a democratic process like we seem to think the church ought to function today; how much would people be saying about Peter? What sorts of vitriolic abuses would be hurled in his direction. As disciples of Christ, we need to be like Peter. Because if we're not authentically open to God’s mercy and love then we will never have the fullness of life in the Spirit. God's work in the world for the salvation of all will be highly impacted by our actions. We, brothers, and sisters, we stand in the breach. You and I, we are the difference. We're the difference in our families. We are the difference at our workplace. We are the difference in our world. We are the difference in the Church.
So let us be more like that Church of the early days. Let us be more like Peter. Bend the knee at the name of Jesus. And knowing his unworthiness says. I love you. You know I do. I received that healing life in God. Be raised up to do that which God has called us to do. Even in our brokenness let us see that we are not each other's enemy. We're a Pilgrim church. On the Pilgrim way. Toward the Holiness to which we are called. Each at our own pace. If we truly are the disciples of Christ then we will march together on this journey and we will build the Kingdom of God here on Earth, in His name by His power and we will make a difference.
Two men, two betrayals, two different outcomes with one lesson - Jesus is Lord, and stands ready to forgive us, if we will come to Him in faith and earnest repentance. It is important to understand from the life of Judas that it is not enough to see Jesus as a wise man who had nice ideas about loving your neighbor and doing the right thing. Jesus made bold claims about Himself – ones that were supported before the crucifixion with miracles of healing, feeding the hungry, and resurrecting the dead. Judas saw all these first-hand but could not call Jesus “Lord.”
Peter put his faith in His Lord, though on the outset he appeared to struggle with outward sins, and Jesus asserted that Peter did not always understand His teachings. He understood what the Holy Spirit revealed to him and followed his Lord. Even after he betrayed Jesus by denying Him, and not standing up for Him at the trial, he came back. He repented. He kept growing spiritually, learning to lead as a servant having the mind of Christ. This example is one for Christians to follow today. Answer the call from God to follow Him, and then go to Him during the good times and the hard times. Sin and mistakes will happen, but God is ready to forgive.
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.