I used to take piano lessons. Let me be clear, that I wasn’t very good. I CERTAINLY wasn’t as good as my brother, mainly because he’d been playing for six years longer than I had, but I wanted to be as good as he was right away. Because of this desire, pride really, and a bunch of sibling competition, I used to get extremely frustrated. That frustration used to get played out in various ways, but the problem came when my frustration led me to not practice, because practicing for around 30 minutes a day every day was an expectation my parents had for me (and my brother) because they were paying for the lessons. If I didn’t practice, it turns out it really wasn’t that big of a deal, but what was a big deal was lying about practicing.
I lied about practicing, OFTEN. I would record that I had practiced for the expected amount of time, but my parents found out that I was lying, somehow. I’m sure it wasn’t that difficult to find out, I’m still a horrible lier, but what followed was guilt at having lied to my parents. I’m certain there was some “actual” punishment like grounding or some-such, but the punishment I remember was knowing that my mom and dad were disappointed with me. I had betrayed their trust.
We talked about the nature of guilt and punishment earlier this week here, and I want to continue that discussion, but focusing on a different aspect: what happens after the event, because guilt can be a powerful motivator for change. The removal of punishment for an action doesn’t often remove guilt, though spiritually it should, but change will certainly remove the guilt. Guilt is something that we deal with, we evolve, and we move on.
Let’s take a “case study” on two poeple you have almost certainly heard of: Peter and Judas. Both of these men were part of the group of people known as The Twelve Disciples. They were both called by Jesus at the beginning of His ministry and followed Him for the three years He ministered to Israel. They were both in a position of authority within the group: Peter was probably the eldest and is often seen as the spokesperson of the twelve; Judas was the money-keeper, the treasurer. The last similarity I want to point out is this: they both betrayed Jesus. What sets them apart from one another is their response afterwards. They are set apart by what they did with the guilt that encompassed their lives. It is because of their reaction to guilt that you see thousands of Peters running around the world today and almost no Judases.
You see, Judas betrayed Jesus to the rulers of the Temple, the chief priests. He gave up Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, the going rate for information. After Jesus was taken up and condemned, Judas was overcome with remorse. He returned the silver to the chief priests, but was rejected. Judas was not welcomed back into the community by the forgiveness of the sin he felt he committed. The priests responded with “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” (Matt. 27:4). From there we are told that Judas went away and hanged himself.
Peter, on the other hand, rejected Jesus, just as Jesus had predicted he would. Upon realization of his actions, Peter went away in remorse and returned to his former life of fishing. It wasn’t until Jesus came and sought out Peter that Peter returned and became one of the fathers of the church. Jesus went after Peter and “reinstated” him in a similar fashion to how Peter rejected Jesus. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, so Jesus asked Peter three times whether he loved Jesus, to which Peter answered “you know I do.” This is the moment of Peter’s restoration.
So what was the difference between Peter and Judas?
It is certainly a difficult issue to diagnose in one paragraph, as numerous articles, essays, dissertations, and books have been written on the subject. But the portion I want to highlight for you is this: it was their response to their guilt that proved the difference. Judas responded by returning to the people who payed him the money, not the person he betrayed. Judas felt guilt before the chief priests, not before Jesus. Judas recognized the Temple as the authority in his life, not Jesus. Peter, on the other hand, betrayed Jesus, and he knew it. Peter left broken and despondent because he thought he would never be redeemed of this guilt, this betrayal. Judas never sought redemption from Jesus, whom he should have recognized as God, living with for three years. Peter, having confessed Jesus as the Messiah, knew that Jesus was God, and I believe that if Jesus had never sought out Peter he still would have been redeemed by God in a powerful way, because Peter had insider knowledge about Jesus and God.
Judas closed his own door. Peter kept the door open, and received redemption. Judas was never a part of the church because he took matters into his own hands, he let guilt kill him instead of improve him. Peter became one of the founders of was became organized Christianity after the resurrection, because he allowed his guilt to work in him and improve him. Guilt can be a powerful motivator for change. Will you let it kill you, or will you let it improve you?
Your Majesty, redeem us. Work in our lives to improve us. Use whatever means necessary to make us better disciples. Help us to come to you with our guilt and shame and free us for joyful obedience to your will and your heart. We love you and want to be more like you everyday. Give us the heart of Peter, and remove in us our heart that acts like Judas. In Jesus’ name: Amen.