The last time I did CPE, one of the assignments was to state which one of the twelve Apostles I was and why. Everyone went for Peter and John and whomever. I said Judas. (Apparently you’re not allowed to pick Judas).
I grew up post-1960s and most of the Jesus movies after that time presented Judas as a reluctant betrayer. In the Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus had to talk Judas into betraying him. But that extreme vision aside, most of the movies about Jesus that I knew presented Judas as someone who never lost faith in Jesus. He just could not understand why Jesus was taking so long to show everyone who he was. So he took it upon himself to force Jesus’ hand. If he put Jesus in a position in which Jesus would have to reveal himself or present his power, then Jesus would. Judas did the wrong thing for the right reason — at least in his mind as presented in these films.
So, when asked which Apostle I would be, I said in the most emphatic terms possible: “I would be Judas!” I would do the wrong thing convinced it was the for the right reason. I get that! That makes total sense to me. I am like most people and most people are not comic book characters or movie villains. Most people never wake up one day and say “I’m going to be evil.” They do that in comic books or in movies, and they usually wear some costume or outfit to let everyone know that they are evil. But for the rest of us, evil looks like basically good people doing bad things for what they think are good reasons. Evil becomes when the ends justify the means — the good end we want to bring about makes all the bad choices and tough decisions along the way necessary and proper. The bad things we do are baptized by the good end we achieve. At least, that is what we tell ourselves and that logic is the logic I imagine Judas had, and I could definitely see myself falling into that role very easily.
Now, twenty years later, I would have to choose Peter instead of Judas. Judas does not make it to Sunday morning, but Peter does. What Peter did in denying Christ was no less a betrayal than what Judas did. In fact, every sin is a betrayal against God and His Christ. Sin is when I refuse what God wants for me and choose what I want for the moment. Sin is when I reject God’s will and place my momentary wants in the position of God.
But even accepting that, I still do not generally operate under the Western idea that sin is a transgression of God’s Law. I see sin more as a spiritual illness. I prefer to think of sin, not as a disobedience that must be punished, but as an illness that must be treated. That is what we do in the Church — we treat the illness of sin, sometimes by preventative care, sometimes by treating the symptoms, sometimes by treating the conditions that cause it. We do this in our worship, our self-examination and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and our general spiritual practices. We may never be cured of the spiritual illness, but we can, for the most part, arrest its growth and keep it in remission by our daily spiritual medicine. And just as my allergy medicine may not keep me 100% allergy-free, my daily spiritual maintenance of my spiritual malady will probably still erupt or flair up with occasional, mild outbreaks. I may still be spiritually sick, but I am mostly healthy and even that bit of illness is functional.
So, all that was to say this: even though I may still choose to do the wrong thing, it is not necessarily a willful disobedience or challenge to God and God’s Law, but it is a choice made within the context of an illness. When we lack sleep or get hungry or find ourselves out of sorts, we tend to be short with others, snap at people, become rude and belligerent. We can’t seem to help it. We may apologize when we feel better, but in the moment, the action or words just seems to happen. And people are generally more patient and tolerant with us when we are ill. When we snap at them, they just console themselves with the knowledge that it isn’t us snapping at them, but the illness. Sin is the same way; therefore, we should be just as patient with others who sin against us. Chances are it is not them, but the sin acting out.
So even though Peter’s betrayal was just as bad as Judas,’ Judas does not make it Sunday. Judas does not see the risen Christ. The Book of Acts is vague on what happens to Judas, but Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear that Judas, after seeing that his plan had failed and he betrayed Jesus for nothing — that Jesus was not going to let himself be forced into proving himself — Judas ran off and hung himself. Peter on the other hand, endured his betrayal and when he met the risen Lord, received forgiveness. If Judas would have stuck it out, if he would have only made it to Sunday, I am certain that Jesus would have appeared to even him and Judas would have been forgiven.
The difference between Peter and Judas is not in their sin or in their betrayal, but in their response to it. Peter threw himself on the mercy of God and on the forgiveness of Christ, and Judas found God’s grace and God’s forgiveness lacking. I cannot imagine that Peter found it easier to live with himself for what he did than Judas did. Yet, Peter endured. He expected he would have to live with that humiliation and shame and that memory of denying Christ for the rest of his life. But the second he saw the risen Christ, all of that was forgotten — forgotten by both Peter and by Jesus.
So today I would say I am like Peter. I am impulsive and I will do and say the wrong thing. I have my moments of denial and betrayal. But like Peter, I do not place my faith in my sin and in my mistakes. I instead place my faith in God’s infinite power to forgive such a spiritually sick person like me.
I have learned that my sins do not define me. I am defined by God’s grace and God’s forgiveness. Therefore, I cannot allow myself to define others by their sins, but by the reality that if God has forgiven me, God has probably forgiven them, so who am I to withhold my forgiveness? I am not opposing them, but God who has forgiven them.
I have learned that anything I want from God, I have to be willing to provide for others. This goes for material things as well as for spiritual things. When I decide I know what is best for others, I find myself doing the wrong things for the right reasons, and it goes badly. When I decide to help others have what I want for myself, we all seem to win.