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Good Friday April 7, 2023
There is a lot going on in this gospel. Theologians talk about it in terms of atonement, reconciliation, justification. The filmmaker and actor, Mel Gibson, focused on the suffering and death, in almost pornographic detail in his 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ.
For the next few minutes I want to reflect on the roles of Peter and Judas in this mystery and what they might tell us…and in a way tie their experiences to reconciliation and justification as well as the horror.

I apologize in advance that this is a long homily….


In a sense Peter and Judas are proxies for us in their betrayal of Jesus or in denying their relationship with him and we can learn from them.


First Let me recount the key elements of the story.
Judas had left the Last Supper to betray Jesus.

Judas… knew the garden across the Kidron Valley, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers, police from the chief priests and the Pharisees… Judas.. was standing with them. 

Judas was trusted with the communal funds. He had seen the miracles, heard the teaching, experienced the kindness of Jesus, yet he betrayed him.

He may have had his own sense of how Jesus should capitalize on his popularity for wealth and power and when Jesus failed to act …according to Judas’s hopes…Judas chose a different way. He probably understood that his orientation towards wealth and power was at odds with Jesus’ teaching. He knew the tension between his desires and what it meant to follow Jesus.

If “our secrets define us”…. (Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer prize in 2014 for her book The Goldfinch, which developed this theme.)…then Judas and Peter each had a defining secret.

Judas had curated his own image as someone who acted charitably on behalf of Jesus and the disciples. Judas’s presentation of himself in everyday life was at odds with his inner attachments.

Significantly, Jesus saw inside Judas and knew that he would betray him.


Let’s now look at Peter.

Jesus had warned Peter that he would deny him. In Matthew 26:31-35 

Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters because of me this night…Peter said, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’

Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all the other disciples said the same.
It was a simple conceit…a self-inflation…to think of himself as braver than he really was. Jesus might have looked at him skeptically and said, “Peter, there is no virtue in discipline under ideal circumstances”. It is easy to make brave statements when surrounded by friends and in the absence of threat.

Peter had a distorted image of himself. Then his self-image ran into a harsh reality test. In a very real sense, Jesus knew Peter better than he knew himself.

In the gospel we read today 
Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. The other disciple… brought Peter into the courtyard. The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’
A bit later, 
Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘Aren’t you one of his disciples?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’  
While Jesus was being questioned,
One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Peter was one the first to be called. Christ said that he would build his church on Peter. Peter was one of only three to see Jesus with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. Despite these graces, Peter did not fully understand himself or internalize the implications.

We know from other parts of the gospel that Peter was impulsive… walking on the water to Jesus telling Jesus not to talk about his death to the disciples. Even his act of cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest was more of impulsive gesture than an intelligent defense of Jesus.

He was neither as brave or as loyal as he made himself out to be. He denied Jesus.
Jesus had seen this part of him and knew he would deny him 


Judas and Peter had seen the miracles and heard the teachings. They had seen the way people followed Jesus. Peter and he each had Jesus’ trust and each had their own relationship with him. But each had his doubts or secret vulnerabilities. And they both failed.


I know that I live every day with temptations that pull me away from the my own relationship with Christ in selfishness or impulsiveness. And, of course, I try to hide the failings behind a more acceptable veneer. 

The lesson of this morning’s gospel is in how Judas, Peter…you and I… respond not only to the temptation but to what we do when we fail to follow Jesus.


I’m going to step back from the gospel now.

You’re all probably familiar with at least three creation stories. One is the story in the Book of Genesis about how God created the heavens and earth, Adam and Eve in seven days. 

Another story of creation is the Big Bang. It goes something like this: about 13.8 billion years ago the whole universe began with an enormous explosion from a “singularity”… an almost infinitely dense, small blob. Everything that exists in the universe ties its origins back to the explosion of that blob: the Big Bang. 

A third story is Darwin’s: about the evolution of species


But different cultures around the world have their own stories of creation. One of them, that I think comes from ancient Persia, goes like this…

In the beginning the Creator made humans to be completely transparent. A person could look inside himself or herself and see what they thought and felt. And a person could look inside others and see what that person thought and felt. Similarly, others could see inside him.  

Humanity lived like that for a long time. It wasn’t always comfortable to see and be seen so completely. Sometimes, people could see thoughts and feelings in himself or others that they weren’t proud of. They didn’t always like what they saw of others’ thoughts and feelings. At other times they had thoughts and feelings that they would prefer that others not see. 

Eventually, humanity got tired of this transparent life and went back to the Creator and explained the difficulties and asked the Creator to fix the issues.

The Creator thought for a while and then returned to humanity with a different solution.

Everyone would have a reflective body. When one human looked at another, they could see themselves in that person and their actions. Similarly, others would see themselves in them and their actions. And humanity did not have to look inside himself or herself anymore. It seemed elegant. 

But as time went on humans didn’t always like what they saw of themselves in another person. And it was clear that others did not like what they saw of themselves when they looked at him. So humanity went back to the Creator and explained the problems they had with a reflective body.

The Creator thought for a while and then came back to humanity with a different idea. We would all have pigmented skins, as we do now. Old and young, black, white, red and yellow people, even men and women would see that, while the expression varied, we shared our human needs and attributes in common, regardless of our difference. We were fundamentally the same and equal. 

Humanity lived like that for a while. But over time it seems that some felt that they were superior to others. Some thought their skin gave them advantages. Others thought their gender, or their age gave them special privilege. Disagreements broke out about what form of humanity was better. 

Some suggested that they go back and ask the Creator to address these problems. But others said “No, we’ve been back several times and he never got it right. We’re smart enough to take matters into our own hands.” 

So they did. 

People of dissimilar colours, different genders and ages began to dress in distinctive ways. They began to use different languages to set themselves apart. Rich people began to think of that they were more favoured than the poor, and some people thought that they could take what they wanted from others because their differences gave them greater rights. Besides that, the “others” were not as good or deserving. And that is how we came to have the world that we live in today.


Creation stories serve a number of purposes. They explain how we came to be.  Most point to our true nature…as creations of God… as related to all living things… as intimates of the universe…. that we need to understand to live well.  

As different as all the creation stories are, they all contain elements of truth. 

The Persian story of creation…..where we were meant to know ourselves, to see ourselves in others, to recognize our fundamental equality…and our social character is one of the stories that talks about our true nature. 

In that story, humanity’s most authentic nature was to be transparent. We were meant to know ourselves, thoroughly and accurately, inside and out. We were intended to see the true thoughts and feelings of others and base our responses on those thoughts and feelings …not something we guess at. The story didn’t promise that we’d always like what we saw, just that we’d see our thoughts and feelings accurately.  

The story also told us that we could see a lot of ourselves in the words and deeds of others.
The story told us that we were all fundamentally equal.


There’s another, slightly subtler message in this parable. That is: we are meant to live in relationship with one another. The gifts of insight, of seeing ourselves in others, and seeing ourselves as fundamentally equal, all assume that we are to live in relationship with one another. 

Moreover, the gifts of community… of self-awareness, reflection and recognition are essential to living successfully with one another. There is a mutuality.

The message of this parable is consistent with becoming our best selves… being open to God and one another with a deep sense of compassion


Peter and Judas had presented themselves as something other than what they truly were. They had not seen inside themselves or reflected on the discrepancies between their true selves and their inflated self-image or the person they pretended to be.

They were able to sustain the incongruities in a generous social environment that did not see inside them…except that Jesus knew how each would fail.

Judas and Peter each realized that they had broken faith. The other disciples knew that Judas had betrayed Jesus. (He may have thought that they might want to kill him.) 

He had not only betrayed Jesus but cost himself his whole social network of the preceding years.


As for Peter, Jesus had told him beforehand that he would deny Jesus. Despite this, Peter had continued to project his false self. He failed to live up to his claimed relationship. Peter understood his culpability.

The issue for both Judas and Peter was how they confronted their guilt how to reconcile the truth about themselves with their relationship with Jesus. 


Jesus’ torture and death was traumatic for both Judas and Peter…not because they suffered physical consequences…but because they saw themselves clearly. Judas as greedy, Peter as a coward.

Their shame, guilt, grief and regret tore them apart. Following Jesus’ trial and death each one must have replayed the moments of betrayal and denial over and over in their own minds wishing to roll back time and redo the decision and words yet they could not. 
And they each punished themselves.

Despite the teaching of forgiving 70 times 7  that he had heard from Jesus, despite seeing the forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery Judas did not understand that he too would be forgiven.

Judas could not stand the torment. He hung himself

We know how the Judas story ends in the gospel but, there’s an apocryphal story that goes, “You know what Jesus was doing when we say, in the Apostles creed, that “he was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell…”?…He was down there looking for his friend Judas.”

It rings true.


Peter’s response to his self-inflicted trauma was to weep bitterly, according to Matthew’s gospel. We know that he joined the other disciples in the upper room after Jesus’ crucifixion. He must have felt lonely, guilty and ashamed.

On Easter morning he would run with John to the tomb after Mary had told him that the tomb was empty. Confusion probably mixed with guilt, perhaps wondering if it was possible that Jesus would overcome death and Peter’s denial.


When he saw Jesus later, on the shore.. still impulsive…he jumped into the water and went to him (John 21:7). But, significantly, Jesus did not ask Peter to confess his sins publicly. He did not ban Peter or inflict further punishment. Instead Jesus would ask him, three times, if he loved him

Jesus asked for love not penalties. 

In his later life I imagine that Peter prayed the opening lines of psalm 139 with personal feeling
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
 You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
 Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.
 In a way, these words also reflect the creation story of how God made us transparent.


One message of this gospel and the stories of Judas and Peter Is that even those who were close to Jesus failed, spectacularly, in their relationship from time to time.

But the larger message of the whole gospel is also that Jesus forgives, even those who would sell him or deny they knew him. Even when we sin over and over again … in secret acts of greed or by lack of impulse control, he still loves us. But we have to accept his invitation to renew the relationship.


Judas and Peter are stand-ins for us. We see ourselves in them.  They had secret failings…as most of us do…and had built a self-image that was based on a fiction. Each had to come to terms with their failings.

We have formalized this understanding of Jesus’ insight into us, when we pray often at the beginning of the Eucharist, “Almighty God, all to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden.”

Peter recognized that his ‘heart was known, and that no secrets were hidden from Jesus’ and he responded with regret and tears…and later affirmation  

Peter’s acknowledgement probably made him compassionate to the failings of others and helped him understand his own need for greater resolve and fewer impulsive actions. He could see himself in them. 

As for Jesus, I can imagine that a cynic would say to him if he heard the Jesus took Peter back… “This guy is taking advantage of you.” And Jesus would smile and say, “Yes he is.”

It is precisely because Jesus wants to be reconciled with each of us that he invites us to take advantage of him. We are justified when we come into alignment with him…a gift that he offers freely and repeatedly. 


I pray that this reflection on human nature and the failures of Judas, Peter… and ourselves…and Jesus’ ultimate response in love will be… for each of us a time to confess the inconsistencies in the way we live with what we profess …and to recognize how they damage the relationship and to see the hope of reconciliation for our part in betrayal and denial of our relationship with Christ.

Accept the invitation and take advantage of his love.

His love is the reason we call today GOOD Friday