Two of Jesus’ inner ring of followers had so much in common: Peter and Judas. We know nothing about their upbringings and backgrounds. How were they raised? What did they value? What were their ambitions? Why were they attracted to follow Jesus? And why, among the multitude of his followers, did Jesus choose the two of them to be in his closest circle? Jesus was a shrewd and intuitive judge of character. What did Jesus see as so special in Peter and Judas? Were they charismatic? Were they eloquent? Were they passionate or articulate or extremely bright? Were they, like Jesus, riled by hypocrisy and injustice? Did they have a whimsical sense of humor, a hearty appetite, nerves of steel, the wisdom of a serpent, the innocence of a dove, a love for children, a certain way with the erudite or with the poor? They must have been impressive, both of them. Was Peter called “the rock” because he was stubborn or because he was strong? Maybe both. And Jesus made Judas the treasurer. Was that because Judas was so responsible, so accountable that he was entrusted with so much among those who had given up everything to follow Jesus? We don’t know. Surely Judas was a very special person, especially wonderful, to have a place so near to Jesus’ own heart. Surely Judas’ kiss of betrayal was not the first time he had expressed his closeness to Jesus.
So what happened? However similar or different they are to one another, both Peter and Judas end up in the Garden of Gethsemane, and both of them, surely to their own horror and to others’, they became betrayers. What, ultimately, is the difference between Judas, remembered for his deception, and his friend Peter, remembered for his sainthood? They had so much in common… except for one thing. Following Jesus’ crucifixion Judas was precipitous; Peter was not. Judas takes his own life; Peter is given his life back by Jesus’ in the gift of forgiveness.
In the calendar of the church we remember today Peter, the first to confess Jesus as the Messiah. But this is not Peter’s last confession. The word “confession” is used in the New Testament for declaring a personal affirmation, a confession of faith.[i] At other times in the New Testament, the word “confession” refers to a breakdown in faithfulness, a confession of sin.[ii] Peter is all over the map with his confessions. In the end, Jesus chooses to build his church upon Peter’s leadership, not because Peter was so strong – strong though he was – but because he was so weak. Pathetically weak, ultimately a broken man, in great need. Peter’s brokenness became Jesus’ real breakthrough to him: Jesus’ power being made perfect, not in Peter’s strength but in Peter’s weakness. It’s not that Peter was amazing; God’s grace was amazing.[iii] Now Jesus could do something with Peter. And so it is with us: God’s grace being made perfect in our weakness.
[i] John 1:20; Hebrews 11:13; 1 John 4:2f.
[ii] Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5; Acts 19:18; James 5:16; 1 John 1:9.
[iii] Saint Paul, also a headstrong man, has his own experience of this. He writes what he hears from Jesus: “’My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
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