Following a good discussion in a bible reading group looking at John 18:1-27, I was left thinking about the characters of Judas and Peter. As observers after the fact it is easy for us to distance ourselves far from the characters we read about. A detachment that often protects us from the reality of our own shortcomings. But just as we are, these two characters were both flawed human beings, playing out their lives in the moment and unlike us they do not know how their story ends, and have yet to gain understanding of the point of it all.
It is interesting to note that some celebrate Judas as a character who played out his purpose for the Kingdom of God, as it was intended, to bring about the salvation of humanity. Yet he is widely portrayed as the wicked villain who had the coldness of heart to betray Jesus with a kiss. Then what of Peter? He denied knowing Jesus three times and yet went on to have a pivotal role in setting up the Christian Church. Someone may ask, how did Peter end up being forgiven and Judas given over to hell?
Beliefs that condemn a whole person, known as Global-Rating, may categorise people in our minds as either all good or all bad. In truth human beings are far more complex than such simplistic ideas. The Bible tells us that we were fashioned in the likeness of God, so what if that means we are inherently good, but after the fall of Adam, it is only sin which causes us to err.
We can never truly know a person. How we interpret their thoughts and feelings is from our own point of view and therefore always tinged with a personal bias. So all conjecture about the motives, thoughts and feelings of any biblical character is gleaned only from the words on a page and our own experiences in the lives we have lived.
Did Judas have his own ideas about how things should be, deciding to take a course of action that he thought would bring about the outcome he most desired? Perhaps an attempt to manipulate the circumstances to get what he thought was right? When it did not go to plan, we are told he felt great remorse (Matthew 27:3) declaring ’I have sinned’ (Matthew 27:4). What terrible anguish he must have experienced to then take his own life. I wonder if he had not, would we have had a bible passage about the restoration of Judas? For God is compassionate towards all who make mistakes. In the Apostles Creed we say Jesus ‘descended into hell’, did He forgive a remorseful Judas or was this remorse no more than a selfish dread of the consequences? Some things in this life will remain a part of God’s mystery until we meet Him in the next.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 NIV.
Peter who is often described as impetuous, was rebuked by Jesus many times. But there is a sense for me that he loved Jesus very much and wanted to protect Him from harm (Matthew 16:22, John 18;10). After all do we not tend toward protecting that which we love? After Jesus’ arrest Peter must have been so confused by a whole range of conflicting thoughts and emotions roaring like a lion in his mind and heart! A man of action simply standing by watching as an observer rather than a participator in the unfolding events.
In denying Jesus there is little doubt in the heat of the moment he gave in to fear and instinctively sort to protect himself. The point was that Peter had previously been so convinced of his ability to abide with Jesus through any circumstance – but then failed as Jesus predicted (Matthew 26:31-35). A bitter lesson. God knows us better than we know ourselves! A good reason to trust His judgement in all things!
On reflection what separated them and what separates us all in life, are the choices we make.
As a teacher, making students aware of the choices they are taking is an important part of good behaviour management. It is also vital to separate the action of someone from their identity. After all – we are not what we do! Just because someone does a bad thing does not make them bad and vice versa. Misguided, and foolish maybe, but that itself lends us the opportunity to demonstrate healthy behaviours and responses. To teach.
I forget the number of times I’ve seen people respond to belligerence with anger, the reason being that they have taken another’s actions personally. Is that not simply fighting fire with fire? How does anyone expect to resolve a situation by fanning the flames with judgement? We do well when we remember a person’s actions are less about us than they are about them and their experiences in life. It is rarely personal.
Our power in life comes from the ability we have to choose. As Viktor E. Frankl points out in his book ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ when everything including their dignity as human beings was taken from those held in Nazi concentration camps, the only sense of control they had left was their ability to choose their attitude.
Whatever our circumstances we can choose how to respond to them. We can choose our thoughts which become our words and our deeds.
“We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” James 3:2 NIV.
We all are guilty of making choices that on reflection turn out to be a mistake. The key is to learn from them, to not abandon hope and move forward a little wiser than we were before.
Father God we give You thanks for the lessons learned in life. We thank You for knowing us and ask for Your guidance in all that we do. Encourage us Lord when times are hard and our feelings compete with our faith. Help us to encourage and forgive others as You encourage and forgive us. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.