Tag Archives: Peter

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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Jesus Catches Peter

February 8, 2019

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On one occasion, Jesus and Peter were in a boat together, just the two of them. It was a wonderful moment. Peter sat there and watched and listened, amazed as Jesus taught the crowd along the lakeshore. Peter had never heard someone so knowledgeable. He had never witnessed someone hold people’s attention so well. He had never felt so enlightened. Peter instantly came to admire and respect Jesus. What a privilege to have Jesus in his boat.

The crowd was awestruck by Jesus. He was a celebrity, a superstar. After Jesus had mesmerized the crowd, he turned to Peter with a startling request: “Please, push off and go further out onto the lake” (see Lk 5:4). Earlier Peter had to share Jesus with the crowd. Now Peter would have him all to himself. And it was Jesus’ idea. What an unexpected thrill. Usually a common person takes the initiative to reach out to a famous person hoping for a little time and attention, but this time the famous person wanted to spend time with an ordinary fellow.

When two men are out in a boat for a long while fishing, it is connect time. Fishermen are talkers, and usually there is a constant line of chatter between them. It is not known what Jesus and Peter spoke about, but it surely was meaningful, and it is not known how much time they spent together, but it surely was quality time.

Then Jesus made a bizarre request, “Lower your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). It is not strange for a fisherman to lower his nets. It was Peter’s job. He did this over and over again. But it was really strange to lower his nets during the daylight hours because fish feed in shallow water at night and swim out into deeper, cooler water during the heat of the day. Peter had to make a quick decision. He thought, “No one has ever been nicer to me. I do not want to offend him. He has been right on everything else. I will go along with him and see what happens.” Incredibly, Peter had a catch like never before – at the wrong time of the day, at the wrong place in the lake.

Peter was not just amazed. He was overwhelmed by the man in his boat. This Jesus is all-powerful, omnipotent; all-knowing, omniscient; and truly loving. It dawned on Peter that Jesus is not just a celebrity. Jesus is almighty, sovereign, and supreme, and he instinctively blurted out, “Lord,” because that is exactly what Jesus is, divine, the Son of God.

In the same moment, Peter realized that Jesus is pure goodness, holiness personified, and suddenly he was mortified that Jesus was in his boat. Peter thought, “Jesus is so good all the time, and I have been so bad so many times. I am unworthy. I do not deserve to have him in my boat.” Peter’s kneejerk response was, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8).

Jesus does not take orders from Peter. Jesus was on his own fishing expedition, and that day Jesus caught Peter. Instead of departing, Jesus stayed, and instead of breaking ties, Jesus formed a partnership. Jesus wanted Peter to catch people (Lk 5:10). His plan was to give him the keys and to build his church upon him (Mt 16:18,19), and he wanted him to be his successor, to serve as shepherd, to feed his lambs (Jn 21:15,17) and tend his sheep (Jn 21:16). Peter was a sinner and unworthy, but if a person has to be perfect or blameless to serve, Jesus would have no one laboring in his vineyard. Jesus loves sinners and he asks them to be his co-workers, and as frail and flawed as they may be, through his healing grace the unworthy are chosen to serve.

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Peter takes the plunge of faith

April 13, 2013

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Fisherman mosaic at outdoor altar at Church of the Primacy of Peter Tabgha in Galilee Israel

Fisherman mosaic at outdoor altar at Church of the Primacy of Peter Tabgha in Galilee Israel

A Puzzling Passage.   After Jesus rose from the dead he appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The gospel includes some curious details: “On hearing it was the Lord, Simon Peter threw on some clothes (he was stripped) and jumped into the water” (NAB, 1970), or according to the most recent translation, “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea” (Jn 21:7) (RNAB, 2010).

Sin and Separation.  Peter was in the boat and Jesus was on the shore, and they were about one hundred yards apart.  Peter may have loved Jesus, but the sin he committed when he denied Jesus three times put distance between them. Jesus is the reconciler. Jesus reconciled all things to himself through the blood of his Cross (Col 1:20). Therefore, at the sight of Jesus, Peter may have felt that mercy would be available to him if he would only go to Jesus.

A Major Conversion Moment.  For Peter it was a time of decision, a moment of truth.  Jesus had prayed for Peter’s faith (Lk 22:31). Jesus wanted Peter’s faith to increase to a much higher level. It was time for Peter to go from moderate belief to full belief, from hesitation to confidence, from doing what he wanted to whatever Jesus asked, and from wanting to safeguard his life to a willingness to lay down his life for God and the sheep (Mt  10:39;16:25; Jn 15:13). For Peter it was time to take a leap of faith, to take the plunge. Peter jumped out of the boat and into the sea to go to Jesus.

Lightly clad Peter.  Some translations say that Peter was stripped or naked; others say that he was lightly clad. Peter would have been wearing a loin cloth, and when he went to see Jesus on the shore it would have been polite to appear before him fully dressed. Symbolically, Peter’s nakedness suggests that his sinfulness was exposed before Jesus and that he was in desperate need of forgiveness.

He tucked in his garment.  Fishermen typically wore a smock, a loose outer garment, particularly during the nighttime hours when it often was quite chilly. A swimmer would not put on a cloak before swimming because it would create so much drag in the water, even if it was tucked in or tied down with a belt or rope.

Come to the water.  By the time the Gospel of John was written, probably in the late 90s AD, the ritual for the Sacrament of Baptism was already established in the early Church. Peter was about to make a profession of faith with his three statements, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15,16,17). Faith in Jesus leads to baptism. At the symbolic level, the outer garment may represent a baptismal garment, his jump into the sea may represent the descent into the waters of an immersion baptismal font, and his arrival on the shore may represent the emergence up the steps out of the font by a new believer. Through his plunge into the water, Peter’s sins were washed away, and he was created anew in Jesus who is living water (see Jn 4:14; 7:38).

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