(In lieu of a homily for Palm Sunday, the following reader’s guide was read before the Passion.)
Peter and Judas are prominent in all the Passion stories, but it is only in Matthew, which we read today, that they, or rather their fates, are clearly contrasted. Both know they are sinners but take vastly different paths,
Peter was the spokesman for the Apostles and although he often put his foot in his mouth, he was rewarded for his exuberance. His declaration of faith in Jesus as the Messiah is reported in Matthew, Mark, and Luke but only in Matthew is he renamed the rock, and only here is he given the keys to the kingdom. (Mat. 16:13-19) He is unquestionably the most honored of the apostles. Yet as in Mark and Luke when he argues with Jesus over Jesus’ prophecy of his impending execution, he is called Satan, a stumbling block. (Mat. 16:23) The harshest words ever spoken by Jesus.
We will see in today’s reading that Jesus will tell Peter that he will deny him three times and when Jesus asks Peter to accompany him in his agony in the garden Peter falls asleep. He does indeed deny Jesus and we last see him crying outside the high priest’s house
All the gospels agree that Judas is one of the twelve and Jesus’ betrayer. Matthew alone tells us that he sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, the price for the capture of an escaped slave. Also, in the book of Zechariah, the Lord tells a shepherd who has been paid 30 pieces of silver to throw the money back into the temple treasury, a prophecy of Judas’ sad end. (Zech. 11:13). In Matthew Judas is the only apostle at the last supper to answer the Lord’s question about his betrayer. He refers to Jesus as “Rabbi” used in Matthew by strangers to or enemies of Jesus. Observe as well, that he addresses Jesus as “Rabbi” when he kisses him in the garden. Most importantly Matthew is the only Gospel to record Judas’ suicide by hanging. (But compare Acts 1:18-19)
We can become so distracted by the horrors of the Passion that we forget that Jesus endured them because he loved us. This love is simply beyond our understanding. It is undeserved, unearned and inexplicable. The fates of Peter and Judas are the options open to us: if we accept that love like Peter did, we will live in hope; if we reject it like Judas, we will die in despair.