DELIBERATE SINNERS VS REACTIVE SINNERS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ISAIAH 49:1-6; PS 71:1-6, 15, 17; JOHN 13:21-38]
The gospel today presents to us two would-be traitors of our Lord. We have two characters in the gospel, namely that of Peter and Judas. Both betrayed our Lord at His passion and yet the circumstances and consequences of their betrayal were worlds apart. We too, like them, betray our Lord by our actions and words. Even though like Judas and Peter, we outwardly profess our love and loyalty to the Lord, we contradict what we say in our actions. Yet, it is important for us to examine whether our betrayal is more akin to that of Judas or that of Peter. If it is the former, the sin is certainly more grievous than that of the latter. Why is this so?
When we look at the character of Judas, his betrayal of the Lord was a calculated act of selling Jesus to His enemies. Judas had it all planned for a price of thirty pieces of silver. He connived with the religious leaders as to how they could arrest Jesus. It was not a betrayal that was committed in a moment of folly. In fact, Judas would have thought of betraying the Lord for quite a while before he went to the chief priests to negotiate the price of his betrayal. It was therefore deliberate and premeditated. It was an act of cold murder. His treachery was seen most clearly in the way he pretended to show his affection for our Lord at the Last Supper. In spite of knowing his evil intentions, the Lord continued to reach out to Judas. He allowed Judas to be in charge of the community’s fund. He offered him the piece of bread as a sign of friendship and love. The Lord did not exclude him from the community or the dinner.
Unfortunately, Judas was consumed by evil. He became hard-hearted and numb to his evil thoughts and actions. The evangelist noted, “At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him. As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. Night had fallen.” Satan had entered into him and therefore night, that is, darkness had fallen. Judas was blinded by his pride. We do not know the real reasons for his betrayal. Perhaps, he was impatient at Jesus’ non-violent approach to the establishment of the kingdom of God. Judas was a revolutionary and wanted Jesus to act against the Romans by starting a rebellion but Jesus was a man of peace. He was disillusioned with the Lord taking the path of suffering instead of that of a triumphant Messiah. Perhaps he was jealous of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. He criticized Mary Magdalene for wasting the precious ointment on the body of Jesus. Perhaps Judas wanted attention and hence he acted impulsively to get the attention of our Lord. Finally, perhaps, he was greedy and hence sold Jesus for 30 silver pieces.
Regardless, he was conquered by his pride because he fell into the deception of the Evil One. Even after he betrayed the Lord, he could have received forgiveness from our Lord. After all, our Lord even prayed for His enemies when He was on the cross saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 27:34) But the devil, as is the case for all sinners, would drag us further down after we sin against the Lord. As the book of Revelation says, “He is our accuser!” “A loud voice from heaven proclaimed, the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Rev 12:10) The devil, after tempting Judas, brought his final downfall by causing Judas to lose hope in the mercy of God. He would have told Judas who was remorseful for leading Jesus to His crucifixion that he had no hope of God’s mercy. After all, Satan is that ancient serpent, the deceiver of the whole world. (cf Rev 12:9) Jesus calls him the murderer and the father of lies. “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44)
Whilst the sin of Judas was a deliberate act of his pride and greed, the sin of Peter was quite different. Peter fell in a moment of weakness. His sin was a reactive sin, coming from his weakness, fear and cowardice. Peter was sincere in wanting to be true to Jesus, and even to defend Him and die for Him. He said to Jesus, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” (Jn 13:37) Indeed, he was so confident of himself, and impetuous as he was, he declared, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Mt 26:26) Peter did not know himself well enough. He was too conceited. He could not believe that he would betray his Lord. That was why at the meal, when Jesus predicted that He would be betrayed, Peter’s immediate response together with rest was, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Mt 26:22) But when the time came, he denied the Lord three times, first before a servant-girl, then another servant-girl and thirdly a bystander who identified Peter as the one who was with Jesus. Three times, he denied and “he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!'” (cf Mt 26:69-75)
Nevertheless, the fall of Peter was also his saving grace. This was because the Lord wanted him to confirm his love and loyalty to Him. At the same time, it was to allow him to humble himself so that he would not be overly confident of himself in future, especially as the leader of the Twelve and the Church. The Lord said to Peter “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Lk 22:31f) The Lord allowed Peter to fail him so that upon recovery, he too would strengthen his brothers who were weak.
The Lord gave him the opportunity to repent by looking straight into his eyes when he denied Him the third time. When Peter said, “‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Lk 22:60-62) His tears were tears of sorrow. Peter was remorseful and repentant. But he did not give up on the mercy of our Lord. He trusted in Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy. After the resurrection, the Lord granted him healing by allowing Peter to reaffirm his love for Him three times when He asked Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” And his reply was, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (cf Jn 21:17)
Today’s scripture readings should give us hope, even knowing that we are weak and are sinners. But the message is clear that for most of us, our sins are not deliberate. We sin against God and our neighbours most of the time, not because we want to do so but because of our reaction to the situation. We get angry because we feel threatened. We lose our patience because we feel we are not in control. We steal because we are tempted. We eat and drink without self-control because we are greedy. We gossip because we are envious of others and sometimes acting out of spite against those who hurt us. But deep inside us, like Peter, we want to be good and faithful disciples of our Lord. We want to do good and live a holy life. So long as that is our fundamental option, we can be sure that the Lord will save us and will show us His mercy. Of course, we must have the humility to ask for forgiveness like Peter every time we sin, knowing how weak we are. We must, through our sinfulness, also offer forgiveness to those who betrayed us since we are no better than them. We must, like Peter, use our weaknesses and sinfulness to give hope to people. We might not be perfect but so long as we try our best with the help of His grace, we should never condemn ourselves because God does not condemn us. He just wants us to “go away and sin no more.” (cf Jn 8:11) Like the Suffering Servant, we are now called to be the light of the nations and we are called to glorify Him in our weaknesses as St Paul says, “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
What we must avoid are the deliberate and calculated sins. These sins will consume our hearts. When we plan evil, we are allowing the devil to have more than a foothold in our lives. Such sins will lead to even greater sins and eventually, it will lead to murder. That is why deliberate cheating, slandering people’s reputation, taking revenge, will lead us to destroy ourselves as well. We will end up like Judas, falling into the sin of pride and arrogance. Eventually, we will allow the Evil One to control our lives, filling us with so much evil and hatred that we no longer see the truth about ourselves. And even if we do, we would be so ashamed of our sins that we might even take our own lives as many do when their crimes are exposed. They are too proud to face the world and ask for forgiveness and mercy. Let us, therefore, pray for greater self-awareness of our sinfulness so that we will always be alert and not allow Satan to tempt us into self-destruction.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.