by Linda McMillan
Let’s start off with a Palm Sunday joke…
A Jew, a Christian, and Muslim all died on the same day. When they got to Heaven Saint Peter said…
Oh, wait. I’ve got it wrong. Let me start over.
A cowboy and a city-slicker both died and went to heaven. When they got there they waited at the Pearly Gate until finally Saint Peter appeared…
Oh wait… I’m sorry. I don’t really have a Palm Sunday joke. I am making a point about Saint Peter. He’s in Heaven, isn’t he? In fact, if you believe the jokes, he practically runs the place!
Saint Peter has had a very successful afterlife. He has become so glorified that when he wrote about Heaven, Dante Alighieri said that Peter was “…as bright and glorious as three rings of fire circling around one another in a dance and singing a song so divine that no imagination can comprehend it.”
Additionally, he was made a saint, declared to be the first pope, and he’s had lots of basilicas, cathedrals, and parish churches named after him. He’s the patron saint of at least 93 things, including feet, fishermen, and frenzy… He’s for feet and fishermen, by the way, against frenzy. And, while popularity of the name has been on the decline since about 1955, it is still perfectly respectable to be named Peter. If all that’s not a charmed (after)life, I don’t know what is. Peter has really reached the pinnacle of all that is holy and right.
You never hear of anybody named Judas, though. There were several Judas’s in the Bible, but the apostle Judas has suffered calumny in the afterlife. Everybody knows, for example, that thirty pieces of silver is a code for ill-gotten gain. Detective writers J. T. Ellison and David Butler have both referred to “the Judas kiss” in their books. And, proving what a deep wound the name can evoke, Bob Dylan gave an interview several years ago in which he recalled being called “Judas” when he switched from acoustic to electric guitar… 47 years earlier!
Most despicably of all, the tour guide of Hell himself, Dante Alighieri again, placed Judas at the very heart of Hell’s hottest warrens. You may remember that in The Inferno, at the center of the worst part of Hell, the devil himself tortures the three worst sinners in the world by ripping them to bits with the teeth in his three ugly mouths! But, the “foremost sinner” thought the biting wasn’t so bad because the scrapping was so much worse. This sinner, of course, was Judas.
Judas and Peter have had very different afterlives, but they shared a lot of things in common in their lives here in real time. For one thing they both followed Jesus; and they weren’t just followers either, Jesus chose them both for his inner circle. Jesus trusted Judas with the money, and he trusted Peter with the experience of the transfiguration. They were not mere hangers-on. They traveled, slept, ate, and worshiped with one another and with Jesus. They both witnessed miracles, and they both had their feet washed by Jesus. I know it’s hard to think of the first pope and the worst sinner in the same category, but right up until the very end they were very similar men living very similar lives. In fact, the similarities continue: Jesus predicted that both of them would betray him, and they both did!
Here is where the story can cut fairly close to the bone, because if we are honest we have all betrayed Jesus. We betray him every time we give up on peace and resort to violent words or actions; when we chose comfort and ease over the poor and oppressed; when it is easier to just be blind to the troubles of the world than to do the hard work, the daily work, of working for change.
Most of us are not as open in our betrayal as Peter was. In this electronic age, I am not sure I could convince anyone that I don’t follow Jesus. But there are times when, if you didn’t have Facebook, you wouldn’t know it. Just this Saturday evening I was in a minor accident on my scooter. As I laid there, considering how best to extract myself, the woman who hit me made a momentary appearance before running off and avoiding culpability, and the words I said to her were not suitable to repeat on a Christian website like The Café. Yet, on Sunday I will shout, “Alleluia, alleluia Christo Anesti… Aletho anesti” with the rest of you. Out of the same mouth come blessings and curses. I am living proof.
Faithfulness and betrayal go hand in hand. If we claim any kinship with Peter, we have to claim a kinship with Judas too.
But, after confronting all my denials – because the string of epithets I gave that woman on the street was not my only betrayal this week – I didn’t kill myself. Judas did. For whatever reason he was not able to take the burden of his life — filled with contradictions and cares, like we all have – to Jesus. If you’ll notice in your reading of Matthew, Peter called Jesus Lord, all the disciples did… except Judas who called him Rabbi. Judas didn’t believe Jesus was the messiah, and didn’t believe that he had the power to forgive sins. God’s mercy was as available to Judas as it is to any of us, but Judas couldn’t see it.
Peter, on the other hand, also betrayed Jesus. Peter betrayed Jesus three times, once with cursing! The difference was that Peter was able to take his conflicted life and failed faithfulness to Jesus and find forgiveness.
Lent is all but over. You may have lived a perfectly holy life these last six weeks. I hope you did. I’m glad for you. But, if you are like me – and some of you are – there has been failure. I shared one of mine, but there are others. Maybe you’ve had some too. You don’t have to tell me about your failures. But, before we get into the full swing of Holy Week and the triduum, take some time to tell Jesus. You don’t have to carry the weight of your own contradictions and complexities alone, you need not exile yourself from the alleluias because of a failure or three. You are in the good company of all the saints, all of whom were sinners too.
Try to imagine how Peter must have felt when he knew he was forgiven? What a relief, what a joy that must have been!
Imagine how Judas might have felt if he could have experienced forgiveness.
And, what about you? What will you do with the freedom you gain in forgiveness? How will you rejoice in knowing that God’s mercy is heaped up in your favor? Oh, the glory… It is not yet Holy Week, but I can already see a little Easter!
Linda McMillan lives in Yangzhong, China – Home of the Pufferfish, and some really bad drivers.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
In the interest of fair play, here’s an actual Palm Sunday joke:
It was Palm Sunday but because of a sore throat, 5 year old Sammy stayed home from church with a babysitter. When the family returned home, they were carrying several palm fronds. Sammy inquired as to what they were for. ‘People held them over Jesus’ head as he walked by,’ his father responded.
‘Wouldn’t you just know it?’ Sammy complained, ‘the one Sunday I don’t go and he shows up.’
You can see a list of all the saints named Peter here.
In counting the things that Peter is patron saint of I count Feet Problems and Foot Problems as one thing. You may wish to count differently. The list is here.
You can read about the popularity of the name Peter here.
You can see some statistics on the name Judas here.
Judas was a common name during the time of Jesus. The writer of John14:22 speaks of a man named Judas, and he is careful to point out that it is not Judas Iscariot. The name Iscariot may have meant that Judas was a member of the sicarii, a political element with violent overtones. It more likely refers to the town he was from: Qeriot.
Judas’s betrayal was predicted in Matthew 26:21… And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. (Also, Luke 22:1-5)
Peter’s betrayal was predicted in Matthew 26:34… Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. (Also, Luke 22:57-62)
James 3:10… And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!