We all know the stories of Peter’s triple denial of Christ and Judas’s infamous betrayal of Our Lord. Many argue that, if one compares these two acts of betrayal by two of Christ’s chosen, Peter’s core act was worse. For one thing, Peter basically betrayed Christ three times. Given three chances to stand beside his Lord, Peter backed down and even swore that he had nothing to do with the Man who had changed his life forever. In addition, Peter was warned about precisely what he did. Christ told Peter that he would deny three times, prompting Peter to strongly and conveniently provide a denial that he would deny! While it is true that Peter’s denails were more spontaneous and far less premeditated than the acts of Judas were, the fact still remains that Peter had two almost immediate opportunities to correct his initial error, and only managed to dig himself deeper in the pit each time. Imagine being told by your mother that you would deny that she bore you three times to three different people, causing you to become very upset by such an accusation, and then proceeding to, in fact, do that very thing just as your mother predicted you would do. If such a betrayal seems despicable and cowardly when inflicted on a mother, how much more vile should it seem when directed at our Savior!
What of Judas? Was not his betrayal equally despicable? Surely, it required greater effort since, unlike Peter, Judas’s wrong required him to actively engage in some premeditated manner with those who would help him carry out his betrayal. In addition, Judas created the very situation which prompted Peter’s denials by helping Christ’s enemies seize Our Lord. The pieces of silver notwithstanding, many argue that Judas’s treachery was inspired more by resentment and confusion than greed. He resented that Our Lord was not moving in the direction that he hoped He would, which would be more as an earthly liberator than an eternal Savior. It seems that Judas might have wanted a Christ of aggression rather than a peaceful Lamb of Love. Many scholars believe that Judas hoped that having Christ arrested would snap Our Lord out of His love theme and into a more assertive stance. Obviously, Judas’s motivations and beliefs demonstrated that he did not learn as much from his Master as one would hope given the years he spent following Christ. Regardless of his confusion and other feelings, Judas’s betrayal was clearly a treacherous action of the highest order.
Faced with two instances of cowardice, betrayal, and despicable disloyalty by two of Our Lord’s chosen, how is it that one of these should go on to become our first pope and the other should end up hanging from a tree? The answer is as basic as it is profound. Initially, both actions were born out of selfishness. Judas wanted things to go his way without regard to who would be hurt in the process and Peter wanted to cover his backside and avoid personal risk to himself regardless of what that would take.
In a sense, both men loved too much. The critical difference is that Judas loved himself too much to face the shame of what he had done. He loved himself too much to throw himself at his Master’s feet to beg for forgiveness. He loved himself too much to love his Master above all else. He loved himself too much to stand by his Master seeking reconciliation. Ironically, Judas loved himself too much but on the terms of this world, where such treachery would usually be unforgiveable. Simply put, Judas loved himself so much that he never bothered to look to his Lord for a solution. His actions showed that, in the end, Judas’s was so focused on himself that he convinced himself that he and he alone had the best solution to this dilemma.
Peter, on the other hand, loved his Master too much to be concerned about his shame. He loved his Master too much to worry about humbling himself before his Lord in contrition. He loved his Master too much to stand being apart from Him. This great love drove him to beg forgiveness for the most grievous ingratitude, the most vile betrayal, the most despicable cowardice. In a sense, Peter loved his Lord so much that he handed his sorrow and guilt to the One Whose great love defies all human terms, and Who can therefore forgive beyond this world’s measures.
Two men who turned their backs on our Savior. Both had great love, but in opposite directions. Judas shows us that when we love ourselves too much, any evil is possible. Peter shows us that when we love our Lord above all else, anything is possible. Ultimately, loving God above all else is the place where these two men parted ways for all eternity.
Copyright, 2011 Gabriel Garnica