With this being Holy Week I decided to jump to the Gospels. I read Matthew 26, Mark 14 and 15, Luke 22, and John 13. All of these chapters address the Last Supper and Passion of Christ. As I read each of these, the writing on Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, fascinated me. Additionally, I focused on Peter denying being a follower and friend of Jesus. It’s as if every ounce of this passage is full of human failure.
I have heard preachers spend an entire worship service on this concept of human failure. I’ve had friends who were told they could no longer teach or lead or participate in church because of their sinful choices or sinful life. We have politicians declaring wars on a variety of behaviors believing themselves to be soldiers of Christianity. But all of this discourse leads to one conclusion: I point out others sins because they are worse than mine. I even hear (and, truthfully, have been guilty) of using prayer as a weapon in this war. Ever heard this? “Some people just do not know when to keep their mouth shut. Guess all I can do is pray for her.” When we make such a statement we are neglecting to “take the plank out of our own eye.” (from Matthew 7:5) We aren’t praying for someone in a humble, loving way. In such statements and cases, we are praying out of pity because their sin against me or my loved one is worse than anything I’ve ever done. We are praying from a position of superiority. Not good.
All of this focus on sin leads to shame. And shame does not lead to positive outcomes. I’m not suggesting life should be a free for all without regret. Regret can lead to learning and learning leads to progress and growth. Shame does not. With shame, we dig an emotional ditch that leads us to believing we are not good enough to receive the love and grace of Christ. Take the examples of Peter and Judas from these chapters.
Peter denies Jesus three times even though he promised he would not. In fact, he vowed to stand by him even unto death. But there he was, hearing the rooster crow and realizing he had let Jesus down. He wept bitterly at his own shortcoming. He realized what he had done. He didn’t need James pointing it out to him. He didn’t need John giving a 20 minute speech guilting him into making a public apology at the alter. And he certainly didn’t need Matthew publicly rebuking him and explaining how he loves the sinner but hates the sin. Moreover, when Jesus appears after his resurrection, He didn’t explain to Peter how he was now not worthy of building the church….or how he would have to do these 15 steps first. Peter had to realize his mistakes on his own. And then he had to come to grips with his own humanity and failure and learn from it. This is what brought him to tears. And then….hears the awesome part….he went on to become everything Jesus said he would be: the rock of the church.
Judas, on the other hand, also betrayed Jesus. He was overcome with greed and was bought with a bribe. Jesus knew this and still served Judas communion and still called him “friend”. Here’s the really incredible part for me to consider. When Jesus was crucified and willingly became a sacrifice for me and you, he was wanting to be the sacrifice for Judas. I’m sure He wanted nothing more while enduring all that went along with the Passion but to see Judas weep regretfully, throw back the blood money, and then pick up the pieces of his life to serve God. I really believe Jesus would have happily welcomed Judas back into His kingdom and group of friends if Judas could have found a way to forgive himself and let go of his shame. But because he could not, he hung himself.
The difference between Peter and Judas was not the sin. A sin is a sin is a sin. Each sin holds the same potential to separate us from God permanently, it holds the same potential to harm our relationships with others, it holds the same potential to hurt. The difference is in the way each man dealt with their regret and moved forward.
How can we help others to deal with shortcomings the Peter way? In our churches, do we move people to learn and grow or do we move them to shame? As an individual Christian, do I act or talk in a way that encourages shame or growth? Moreover, when others hurt or betray me, do I handle this with an air of moral superiority or from the level playing field of an equally faulted human? How do we help ourselves to be humble and recognize our own imperfections while not being swallowed whole by them? I think that is the challenge of Holy Week for our world today.