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Peter vs. Judas: What we can learn from their big difference

Holy Week

Massimo Todaro | Shutterstock

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 04/06/23

Peter and Judas both stand out in the Gospel story for betraying Jesus on that fateful Holy Thursday. Then both men faced a critical choice.

There’s so much to love about St. Peter, the humble fisherman who so often put his foot in his mouth, but was always quick to ask forgiveness and try again. His faithful perseverance made him well suited to being the first pope. 

One of the most fascinating parts of his story is his betrayal of Christ before the Crucifixion, and most importantly, what he did after that betrayal.

Peter and Judas both stand out in the Gospel story for betraying Jesus on that fateful Holy Thursday. Judas handed Jesus over for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15), while Peter denied Jesus three times later that night (Luke 22:54-62).

Having fallen so low, both men faced a critical choice. They could repent of their sins and beg God for forgiveness, an act requiring great humility. Or they could harden their hearts still further and think their sin was beyond God’s ability to forgive, an act of pride and distrust in God.

Of course, St. Peter chose the former, while Judas seems to have chosen the latter. That’s why Peter is a great saint and Judas’ name has come to mean “traitor.” 

Their similar betrayals but opposite outcomes offer a lot to ponder. Indeed, Pope Francis has spoken several times about watching to avoid the “little Judas” that can hide inside our hearts. 

There are a few important lessons to be learned from their stories…

1Faithfulness in the little things

Judas is an enigmatic figure: How could someone so close to Jesus have turned so evil? Catholic Encyclopedia explains it this way:

Though nothing should be allowed to palliate the guilt of the great betrayal, it may become more intelligible if we think of it as the outcome of gradual failing in lesser things.

Small wonder that Jesus so frequently warned his disciples to be “faithful in little things” (Lk 16:10). 

Little sins, small acts of unfaithfulness to God’s will, can slowly but surely snowball out of control into much bigger offenses.

2Humility in asking for mercy

There is a kind of foolish pride in thinking a sin is too much for God to forgive. Jesus made it clear, again and again, that no act is beyond his mercy. As the Catechism tells us,

There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss. (1864)

What does a “soft” heart toward God look like? Where could we invite his forgiveness into the unlovely hidden corners of our souls that we like to pretend don’t exist?

Perhaps St. Peter can intercede for us, and show us the way to cast ourselves on Our Lord’s boundless and unending mercy.

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