Tag Archives: Passion Narrative

Matthew Compares Peter and Judas

April 3, 2020

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Jesus is the main character of the Passion Narrative. It was Jesus who presided over the Last Supper, underwent the Agony in the Garden, was arrested, placed on trial, sentenced to death, scourged and mocked, crucified, died, and was buried. The story is told in two chapters of Matthew’s gospel, chapters 26 and 27, and the gory details of Jesus’ bloody death are conspicuously absent.

Instead, much attention is given to the people who were involved with Jesus’ crucifixion: the disciples, the chief priests and the elders, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, the crowd, the soldiers, the revolutionaries, and the women from Galilee. As the story is retold, the listener is left to wonder, if I had been there, which of these would I have been? As the song asks, Where You There When They Crucified My Lord?

“Peter weeps bitterly.” as seen in the lower church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, Mount Zion, Jerusalem, Israel. Father Michael Van Sloun

All four gospels mention Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot, but only Matthew gives extra attention to Judas, and only Matthew goes out of his way to compare them. They both sinned. Matthew was keenly aware that all of the members of his Christian community, like Peter and Judas, were sinners, as well as all of his readers. Peter and Judas reacted to their sins differently and had drastically different outcomes. When a person commits a sin, the person has choices. Matthew would point us to one character and away from the other.

The similarities between Peter and Judas abound. Both were apostles. Both were leaders, Peter the head of the group and the chief spokesman, Judas the chief financial officer, the treasurer. Both held positions of trust, Peter with the keys, Judas with the purse, and at the Last Supper they both sat close to Jesus, positions of friendship. They accompanied Jesus on his travels, listened to him speak, and witnessed his miracles.

On Holy Thursday night the points of comparison became more dramatic. Jesus knew they both would sin. Jesus told Peter, “You will deny me three times” (Mt 26:34), and he told Judas that he would betray him (Mt 26:25). Peter led the other disciples to Gethsemane to pray with Jesus (Mt 26:37); Judas led a band of soldiers and guards to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus (Mt 26:47). Peter listened to the trial from the high priest’s courtyard (Mt 26:58,69); Judas witnessed Jesus’ condemnation before Pilate, the chief priests, and elders (Mt 27:1-3). Peter denied Jesus three times (Mt 26:70,72,74); and Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Mt 26:48-49). Both regretted their sins: Peter wept bitterly (Mt 26:75), Judas flung the thirty pieces of silver into the Temple and admitted, “I have sinned” (Mt 27:4).

At this point their similarities abruptly ended. Peter went back to the other apostles; Judas went back to the chief priests and elders (Mt 27:3), and then off by himself (Mt 27:5), leaving the community. Peter repented; Judas despaired. Peter accepted Jesus’ mercy, went on living, and served for over thirty more years; Judas decided he was not worthy to serve. Peter glorified God by his death as a martyr; Judas dishonored God by his death by hanging (Mt 27:5).

We are all like Peter and Judas; we all sin. After we sin, we have choices. Shall I repent or despair? Shall I accept God’s mercy or not? Shall I pick up and get going again with the help of God’s grace or shall I give up and quit? Matthew has a recommendation for us: look to Peter.

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