Peter, Judas, and the Only Way to Die
Do you find it easier to forgive your neighbor than to forgive yourself? Why is that?
We’re commanded to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So, Jesus must’ve loved himself even as he sacrificed himself. And yet he did say, “Whoever hates his life (psyche) in this world will keep it for eternal life.” How do we love ourselves by hating “our lives?”
Matthew seems to purposely compare two of his friends in his gospel: Peter and Judas.
In Matthew 26 Jesus is tried before the Sanhedrin and they, in turn, decide to beat him and send him to Pilate for crucifixion. Both Peter and Judas must’ve been present. Earlier that night Peter had declared that he would never “fall away.” And then Jesus informed Peter that he would deny him three times before the cock crowed. Sitting outside in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter denies Jesus. The third time he does so with an oath (“I’ll be God damned if I know that man”). The rooster crows. And Luke records that Jesus looked at Peter. And then Peter “went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75).”
Jesus looked at Peter with the same eyes with which he always looked at Peter—eyes of infinite love—and Peter was undone.
Three verses later we read this: “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. He said, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed and he went and hanged himself (Matt. 27:3-5 NRSV).” He saw to it, himself.
My Aunt Joyce, my friend Billy whom I adored, my pastor friend Tim whom I wanted to be, my pastor friend Bruce who loved the homeless so very well, my pastor friend Jim who was a brilliant preacher and part of the Sanctuary... they all saw to it themselves.
Jim once asked me about suicide, and I said, “Jim, it won’t work.”
And yet, I’ve been tempted to see to it myself; I’ve been tempted to take vengeance on me, to pay for that which I cannot pay: myself. I’ve been tempted to justify myself with myself, and so have you. It may be the only temptation that there is—the worship of an idol that is your own ego. It’s the insane notion that you are responsible for your own creation.
We’ve turned Judas into the “chief of sinners;” we think of him as so much worse than Peter. But I think Matthew is wrestling with the question, “How could they be so much alike?”
The name Judas basically means Jew. They were all Jews and Jesus is King of the Jews.
Jesus refers to him as a “devil,” but devil means accuser and we’ve all done plenty of that.
After Judas betrays him with a kiss, Jesus calls him “friend” and he had already said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friend.”
Satan entered Judas, but Jesus looked at Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.”
Both Peter and Judas disagreed with the way Jesus was running his ministry.
Earlier that week, all the disciples complained of how he received the fragrant oil from the woman—oil that could’ve been sold and the money given to the poor.
Apparently, it was that night that Judas decided to go to the religious authorities. He may have told himself that he cared for the poor. He may have been hoping to start a revolution. He may have even been trying to save the savior from himself and the Romans—just like Peter. Whatever the case when he heard the sentence from the Sanhedrin, “He repented (NRSV).” “He changed his mind (ESV).” “He repented himself (KJV).” “He was filled with remorse (NIV).”
Both Peter and Judas sinned against Jesus. Both were repaid with grace—a glance or a kiss. Both “repented,” and Judas even tried to make amends. But only Peter died to himself that night, and the following day, only Peter dared to believe that he was forgiven as Jesus lifted his head on the tree and said, “Father forgive them; they know not what they do.”
Judas missed that part, for he had seen to it himself the night before in the valley of Gehenna, where he had hung himself on a tree. He realized that he had taken the life of Christ on a tree; he did not see that Christ gave his life on the same tree from the foundation of the world. Judas would not forgive himself; he had no faith in Mercy.
Peter reminds me of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable.
Judas reminds me of Inspector Javert, who, “derailed by mercy,” throws himself into the rapids of the Sein. “That which was passing in Javert was... the derailment of a soul, the crushing of a [stringent morality] which had been irresistibly launched in a straight line and was breaking against God.”
God is love. God is free. God is the Creator of everything which is anything, which means there is nothing but Grace. Your past sins are always a gift in disguise for they simply reveal what has always been true and that is that you cannot justify yourself, for you are eternally justified by Grace. Forgiveness is reality. Unforgiveness is an illusion of our own creation—and the prison in which we trap ourselves: hell.
You must forgive yourself for you are the creation of God and not your own.
In a last-ditch effort to appease his idol, Judas tries to kill himself with himself, which is just like trying to save yourself with yourself; it’s just more self, more false self, more “psyche” in this world. Judas failed. The problem with suicide is that it doesn’t work.
In Acts Chapter One, Peter says that Judas “went to his own place.” He was lost in himself.
Jesus called him “the son of destruction (apoleia: literally ‘the lost’).”
And yet Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost.” He leaves the ninety-nine to save the one.
When Billy pulled the trigger, Tim started the car, Bruce tied the knot, and Jim sliced his wrists with glass, they were already in “hell.” And what they did, did not deliver them from that hell—it may have sunk them only deeper. However, I am convinced that Jesus went there with them.
You must forgive yourself, for what you do to the least of these you do to Jesus.
From Matthew and Luke, we learn that Judas hung himself in the Potter’s field in the valley of Gehenna (sometimes translated as “hell”). And we learn that because it was “blood money” the priests used the thirty pieces of silver to purchase that field for the burial of Gentiles. In other words, Jesus purchased that field in Gehenna, purchased Gentiles, and purchased Judas with his own lifeblood.
Peter died with Jesus and rose with Jesus.
Judas took his own life before that happened.
But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen, won’t happen, or hasn’t happened.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Jesus met Judas in the Potter’s field in Gehenna, looked at him, and said, “Judas, my friend, let me now turn your tree into my tree from the garden right up the hill.” And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Judas then wept like Peter.
You must forgive yourself because it’s the judgment of God and the only way to die . . . or live.
So why is it so hard to forgive yourself? Well, because you’re proud of yourself (not your neighbor). It’s not noble; it’s original sin; it’s the psyche of death; it’s pride.
So, when I find myself hating myself, in order to love myself, I sometimes picture myself being crucified with Christ—there I die with Christ, and I rise with Christ. Then, I don’t “see to it myself;” Jesus sees to it with me. That’s forgiveness.