Peter, Judas, and the Mercy of God

"Peter's Denial" (detail) by Carl Bloch

“Peter’s Denial” (detail) by Carl Bloch

This past Sunday we heard of the forgiveness of Christ towards the Woman Taken in Adultery, the week after hearing the story of the Prodigal Son and the Merciful Father.  We need these reminders of God’s mercy in the weeks leading up to Palm Sunday, when we will all cry out the dreaded, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

If that moment in the Palm Sunday liturgy makes you uncomfortable…. Good.

The mercy of God that we heard about the previous two Sundays is abundant, life-giving, and always waiting for us.  But it’s not without cost.  The cost is the Cross.  The merciful Father welcomes us home through the wounds of His Son.

Last Sunday began the period of Passiontide, when Lent draws to a close and we inch ever closer to Good Friday.  It’s not a time to let up on our Lenten sacrifices, but a time to intensify them.  Traditionally, this was the time churches veiled the statues, as we enter these final two weeks of preparation.  As my pastor said this week, “The next two weeks should be interiorly disturbing for us. The One we love is going to die.”

We will yell “Crucify him!” with the crowds, and it will be difficult.  It should disturb us.  It should cause us to feel guilty.  It should call forth repentance.

We have sinned.  We are guilty. We have failed every single day.

But He calls us back.

That is why we can never emphasize mercy without an explanation of sin (why do we need mercy if there’s no sin?) or emphasize sin without speaking of mercy.  Mercy had a cost.  The cost is the Cross. The One we love is going to die… because of us.

But if we want to come home, he is waiting for us with outstretched arms.  The pierced arms of the cross.  The raised arms of the Resurrection.

We deserve the Cross. And He gives us the resurrection.  We have failed. But He is waiting for us.

Peter understood this.  Right after denying his friend and Master three times, just hours after he solemnly swore he would never leave his side, that friend turned and looked at him.  I think it is one of the most poignant sentences of the whole Gospel: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” (Luke 22:61)

One can just imagine Peter recounting the story to Luke for his Gospel.  Could he ever forget that moment?  The emotions he could still feel as he remembered the night, recalled that look, the simultaneous pain and love in Christ’s eyes, the wordless exchange between Peter and his Master.

He encountered the mercy of God that night. And he accepted the mercy.

It was not that he had not sinned.  He had denied Christ.  He had fallen.  But he was willing to accept the Lord’s mercy.

His fellow apostle Judas rejected that mercy.  Realizing what he had done, he too knew that he had sinned.  For one reason or another, he regretted betraying the Lord (Matthew 27:3) and returned the thirty pieces of silver.

Judas was not chosen by Christ to be the fall guy. He wasn’t chosen to be a disciple so Christ could prove a point or so that he could be the villain in our story of salvation. He was chosen to be a saint. St. Judas.  But he chose otherwise.

As will we.  Proverbs says that the just man falls seven times a day.  We will choose ourselves over God. We will choose the vanity of the world, the fleshy comforts of life, the lies of the devil.

But Christ wants to take us back.

Judas did not just betray His Lord, he denied His mercy. He despaired in his sin.  Instead of begging for the mercy he had heard Jesus preach so often about, he killed himself.  Christ would have taken him back, He would have made him breakfast that morning on the Sea of Galilee, He would have embraced him.  But Judas did not go to Him.

On Palm Sunday, as you join your voice with the voices of the crowd to crucify your king, reflect on the everyday choices you make to deny your friend and Master.  But never forget the look of that friend through the crowd, inviting you back to the house of the Father. Never forget His words on the cross: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

We don’t ignore our sins.  We don’t whitewash them or act like they do not matter.  They have killed the One we love.

But we don’t remain in them, either.  After Good Friday comes Easter Sunday, where Christ will meet us and offer us life everlasting.  There is mercy, if we choose to accept it.

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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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