April 1, 2012
"Judas and Peter" By. Rev. Helen Collins
Matthew 26 & 27 (selected)
During this Lenten season we have looked at how several individuals interacted with Jesus. First we read about Andrew, who brought first brought his brother Peter to Jesus. It was Andrew who brought the boy who had some fish and bread to share, out of which Jesus was able to feed 5,000 men plus women and children. And the third glimpse we get of Andrew was when he brought some Greeks – non-Jews to Jesus.
Then we considered Blind Bartimaeus who received the gift of sight from Jesus, and in receiving that gift, Bartimaeus received a new vision and new hope for life and responded with gratitude. As Mark’s gospel tells us, “He received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”
Last week we remembered that wee little man Zacchaeus, the most hated man in town, a thief and a cheat whose life was healed by the life-changing love of God.
Today I want us to look at two of the disciples – quite similar in some ways, and yet different in a critical way.
First Judas. I don’t know anyone who, two thousand years after the events of Holy Week, would consider naming their child Judas. According to one account a Vacation Bible School teacher taught a class one summer on Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. After the lesson, she went over some review questions and asked, “Who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver?” Without hesitating, her 7-year old son answered, “I know! It was ‘Judas the Scariest.’”
There was a time when Judas was a very popular name. There were many people in the Bible named Judas, some of them quite heroic individuals. One of Jacob’s sons was named Judas. Jesus had a half-brother named Judas, and the first name of the apostle we know as Doubting Thomas was Judas. And of course, there was Judas Maccabeus, one of the greatest warriors of the Hebrew people alongside such figures as Joshua, Gideon and David. The Hebrew name means “praise of God,” but for us it has come to mean “betrayer,” synonymous with one who is the worst kind of traitor.
And he is easily the scariest disciple of all. In many ways he is more
frightening than Pilate or Herod or even Caiaphas and the other accusers. It’s not that he’s scary-monster scary. But he was close to Jesus, trusted with the job of treasurer for the group. And it is a thousand times worse to have a friend betray you, than to deal with someone you knew from the start was an adversary.
Why did Judas sell Jesus out? Some have argued that it was for the money. He was, after all the treasurer of the group. But I doubt that motive, because when he realized what he had done, he tried to give the money back. When they wouldn’t take it, he threw it away on the ground. Some have said it was because he was trying to manipulate Jesus, who seemed too gentle to be the kind of Messiah Judas and many other expected. Perhaps. Sometimes we have compassion for Judas, thinking that someone had to do the dirty work; he just had the bad luck to be chosen for the job. It was his fate. I doubt that also, because it is outside of the character of God – who is goodness and love – to force someone to do something evil. Possibly it is a combination of factors that drove Judas to hand over Jesus.
Let’s consider Peter for a moment. Wonderful, impetuous Peter. It is Peter who in one mountain-top moment recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, to whom Jesus says in the next moment, “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter certainly had his ups and downs. Peter, upon whom Christ promised to build his church, also betrayed Jesus that fateful night.
Remember – impulsive Peter adamantly declares he would never betray the Lord. He would die with him if necessary. Peter is deeply dismayed when Jesus declares, “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” But deny the Lord, he does. After Jesus was arrested, Peter repeatedly tells those who question him that he doesn’t even know the man. Could he have saved Jesus from trial and crucifixion? Probably not. Knowing what we know on this side of Easter would we want him to? No. Had he admitted that he knew Jesus, most likely all Peter would have accomplished would be getting himself arrested, tried and executed right along with Jesus. At this point Peter reminds me of the little rhyme that says, “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.”
Still, on the night our Lord was arrested, two disciples betrayed him – Judas who identified him and handed him over to the chief priests and the elders, and Peter who denied he even knew Jesus. In fact all of the disciples betrayed him, falling asleep as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. If we tell the truth, there are moments in our lives when each of us betray the Lord, when we behave in ways that ignore his teachings, when we decline to love our enemies, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to love God with all our heart and mind and soul.
So what’s the bottom line difference between Judas and Peter?
In a few moments you will hear another reading from the gospel of Matthew that describes the moment when Judas identified Jesus to his enemies, and what grabs my attention is what Jesus said to Judas in that moment: Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
He called him “friend.” Here was Judas doing the worst deed in all of human history and yet Jesus was open and forgiving and loving enough to address him as “friend.” Sadly Judas chose to continue with the evil plot. Horrified by what he had done, he tried to return the silver coins. But it wasn't with the chief priests and elders he needed to make up. It was with Jesus. None of us can know for certain the answer to “what if. . . ” “What if Judas had repented and sought Jesus’ forgiveness.” Everything I know about Christ tells me even Judas would have received grace from the Lord. The tragedy is that he didn't seek the Lord's pardon.
Peter, who also betrayed Jesus that night, Peter, who denied he even knew who Jesus was, came back to him. When after the resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples, he said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
Every one of us falls short of God’s plans and expectations for us. From time to time, every one of us through word or deed denies Christ. We are Judas and we are Peter. What is critical is that we never abandon hope that Christ can and will forgive us if only we will ask, that we hear Jesus call us ‘friend’ in spite of our worst moments of unfaithfulness, and trust that he is able, even as he restored Peter, to restore us to the joy of his salvation. Thanks be to God for the amazing grace we know in Christ. Amen.