With Lent just past, and the mix of pain and joy which that time serves us, I am reminded of a discussion I have had numerous times with various friends and relatives. Namely, who was guilty of the greater sin, Judas, or Peter? Scholars seem to fall on both sides of this debate, with those targeting Judas seeing the ultimate result as their central focus, while those targeting Peter as guilty of the greater sin seemingly focusing on a number of points. Those who argue that Judas was the guiltier party seem to focus on the fact that, one way or the other, the betrayal of Judas had the more direct impact on Christ’s capture and murder. After all, one can argue, Peter betrayed Jesus after Jesus had been arrested and, clearly, whether or not Peter denied Christ was not going to have any impact on the fate Jesus had before Him. The enemies of Christ did not push for His death because Peter denied him but, rather, regardless of that fact. Had Peter jumped on a chair and proudly announced that he was, in fact, a follower of Christ and, in fact, the leader of those followers, Jesus would not have been released with a wink and a smirk of “Sorry about that!”.
If the actions of Peter, then, had nothing to do with Christ’s fate that day then, we might ask, did the actions of Judas have much more to do with that result? Surely, it would seem so, at least on the basis that Judas made it much easier for the enemies of Jesus to get their hands on him. Without Judas, it would likely have been much tougher for these enemies to grab Jesus without causing a riot but, one might consider, it is likely that, sooner or later, one way or the other, they would have ultimately gotten their target, albeit with much more difficulty and far less convenience. Thus, we can say, Peter’s actions had nothing to do with Christ’s fate and the actions of Judas certainly facilitated and accelerated a fate which would have likely happened sooner or later, given the power and influence of His enemies. Let us hit Judas with 2 guilt points given that his acts had a more direct impact on the fate of Our Lord. Guilt Score……Peter 0 Judas 2
As to the motives of the two men, Peter sold out Christ for safety and out of cowardice, while Judas sold Him out out of a mix of greed and confusion, so let’s call that a draw and post the guilt score at Peter 1 Judas 3.
As to the quantity of the betrayals, Peter betrayed Christ 3 times and Judas once, so let’s throw those amounts into the mix and call the score Peter 4 Judas 4.
Both men were followers of Christ who had known him for a long time and seen His great Holiness and love of others, so let’s call the length of their relationship with Christ a draw and have the score at Peter 5 Judas 5.
As to the centrality and stature of each man among the apostles, there is little doubt that Peter was the leader of the group and, therefore, his actions would have a much more devastating example and impact on the integrity of the group, given his leadership and example role. Peter 6 Judas 5.
Now, let us add the fact that Jesus had already placed Peter in a special position and called him the Rock upon which Our Lord would build the Church, so we can argue that, in betraying Christ, Peter was falling much farther from grace than Judas ever did. Peter 7 Judas 5.
Scripture tells us that both men bitterly regretted what they had done, so let’s call that a draw also. Peter 8 Judas 6.
Despicable as the actions of Judas were, they were necessary for the plan of Salvation to unfold. Despite the fact that Scripture notes that it would have been better if Judas had never been born, the fact remains that, detestable as his actions were, they served a purpose in God’s salvation plan. Despite the fact that, even if Judas had not betrayed Jesus, He would likely have been murdered sooner of later by His foes, the fact remains that Judas served a predestined role in these events. In brief, Judas was serving himself and, likewise, God’s ultimate plan. By contrast, Peter was only serving himself, as his actions had no indirect or external purpose in God’s plan, but only served Peter. Peter 9 Judas 6.
So, we see, Peter was considerably more guilty than Judas in terms of selling out Christ. In fact, some would argue that, while betraying someone is despicable in that one is abusing trust, at least the betrayer admits to having established the trust he is abusing. In other words, the betrayer is not denying his relationship to the betrayed. Rather, he is abusing that relationship after implying that such a relationship existed on some level. One might even argue that, in order to be more effective, betrayal needs a closer relationship to work. Thus, how rarely does one hear of someone betraying a stranger? No, it seems the very essence of betrayal that one needs to admit to having a close relationship in order to carry out such betrayal in the first place. Simply put, Judas may have stabbed Jesus in the back but, in order to do so, he had to admit that he had Christ’s back at some point and was close, at some point.
What of Peter? In denying Christ three times, Peter basically rejected the idea that he even knew Jesus. What would hurt you more; if someone you knew stabbed you in the back or, conversely, if someone you held as a special leader denied even knowing you in the first place, as if knowing and being associated with you was a curse? Let’s give Peter 2 guilt points on that one and Judas 1, so that our new score is Peter 11 Judas 7.
In the near final analysis, by the standards of this world then, Peter was more guilty than Judas in his actions. However, this is where Divine Mercy comes in. Our Lord told Sister Faustina that, the greater the sinner and the sin, the greater the possibility of Divine Mercy in the face of sincere contrition, audacious love, and trusting abandonment to God’s Divine Mercy. Despite being much more wrong than Judas, Peter drowned his pride and self-interest in a sea of total love and trust, as well as a relentless desire to not be separated from Our Lord, which happen to be the necessary ingredients for Divine Mercy as outlined by Our Lord to Sister Faustina.
While the numbers used here are only meant for illustrative purposes and, obviously, are in no way meant to be concrete or precise measures of relative guilt, the fact that Divine Mercy wipes out these subjective measures is what matters here. Ultimately, Peter’s greater sin was wiped out by his infinitely greater love of Christ and total trust and abandonment to Our Lord’s Divine Mercy. By contrast, Judas remained mired in self, in pride and, worse still, wandered into blasphemy, which many scholars define as thinking that one knows better than God. On that last point, Judas very clearly thought that he had a clearer grasp of his guilt and opportunity for reconciliation than God did, which led to his total despair and ultimate surrender to sin with further, conclusive, sin.
With apologies for one more play on subjective measures of guilt: Peter 11 – 11 Divine Mercy = 0 as opposed to Judas = 7 with waiver of that Mercy = 7
At the end of the day, Divine Mercy is about not letting yourself be defined by your sinfulness but, rather, by your total love and trust in God.
Copyright, 2014, Gabriel Garnica. All rights reserved.