Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Difference Between the Repentance of Judas and the Repentance of Peter

"Feed my lambs."

(Palm Sunday 2008 (A): This homily was given on March 16, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Palm Sunday 2008]

The story of Jesus’ passion and death is found in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But each evangelist records certain details of the story that the other three do not.

For example, the details surrounding the death of Judas are found exclusively in the gospel of Matthew. Mark, Luke and John tell us nothing about Judas’ return to the chief priests and elders, his throwing of the thirty pieces of silver into the Temple—and his eventual suicide.

Matthew alone also tells us something very important about Judas’ internal reaction to the condemnation of Jesus: he tells us that Judas actually felt sorrow and remorse for what he had done. It says in Matthew 27, beginning in verse 3: “Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’”

Which raises an interesting question: What was the difference between Judas and Peter? After all, they were similar in a number of ways. Both turned their backs on the Lord; both sinned grievously; and both, apparently, repented!

So how were they different? I think Bishop Sheen answered that question perfectly many years ago in one of his books. There he wrote: “It is interesting to make a comparison between Peter and Judas. Our Lord warned both that they would fail. They both denied or betrayed the Lord. They both repented. But the difference in the word repent is that Judas repented unto himself and Peter repented unto the Lord.

When Judas repented of his betrayal of Jesus, in other words, he looked inward. In that sense he had a personal encounter with himself. The problem is it didn’t go any further than that. His encounter was ONLY with himself. That led him ultimately to despair, because deep down inside he knew that HE was the problem, not the solution! He had repented to himself, yes—but that didn’t do him any good in the end because it was impossible for him to take his own guilt away!

Peter on the other hand, after looking inward like Judas did, also looked OUTWARD. He looked to the one Person who could make things right again and restore him to grace! That Person, of course, was Jesus himself. After he had risen from the dead, Jesus met Peter by the Sea of Tiberias and 3 times asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

And 3 times Peter said, “Yes.”

That personal encounter restored Peter to grace. His repentance “unto the Lord” freed him from his guilt—forever!

I mention this today because I think many Christians in our modern world—and that includes many Catholics—mistakenly believe that “repenting unto themselves” is all they need to do in this life. This is no doubt one reason why Confession is not a very popular sacrament these days (at least it’s not as popular as it should be).

In Confession, remember, we have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ—an encounter that’s just as real as the one Peter had with Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias 2,000 years ago! But many Catholics don’t think they need that type of encounter. They think that Judas’ type of repentance is all that’s needed.

Could this be why we live in such a violent culture? In my humble opinion it’s at least part of the reason why. Notice something: Judas repented unto himself and ended up committing a terrible act of violence—against himself! To me, that’s not at all surprising. When you repent only unto yourself you don’t experience any real inner peace. You may pat yourself on the back and say, “Don’t worry; it’s okay”—but deep down inside you know that it’s not okay!

And when a person doesn’t have any peace on the inside—when he knows in his heart and soul that it’s “not okay”—he’s obviously much more likely to commit an act of violence on the outside—either against himself (like Judas did), or against someone else.

This is yet another reason to go to Confession regularly. Confession is the best and most important opportunity God gives us to repent “unto the Lord” like Peter did.

If you didn’t have a chance to go during the season of Lent, don’t worry—fear not! The good news is: here, at St. Pius, we provide Confessions all year long.