Bottom line: Today we see the contrast between Judas and Peter. One despairs, the other turns back.
Last night we saw Jesus performing an act of humility: he washed the Apostles' feet. That gesture was a small preview of what would happen today - Jesus greatest act of humility: accepting the cross and all it meant.
We also saw last night how Peter resisted - he wanted a triumphant Messiah not a "suffering servant." Peter did allow Jesus to wash his feet, but he had not learned the whole lesson. When they come to arrest Jesus, Peter draws a sword.
Commenting on this passage, Bishop Sheen made a humorous observation: As a sword fighter, Peter was good fisherman. And thank God he missed the mark. He only managed to severe an ear. As was the case in the past and would happen in the future, Jesus repaired the damage done by Peter.
It gets worse. Like the other Apostles, Peter flees, although he tries to observe from a distance. His nervousness, his Galilean accent all give him away. To cover up he commits the worst sin. Even allowing for fear, it is a horrible thing to deny knowing Jesus. He could have kept quiet, he could have played dumb like King David did. Instead he says, "I do not know the man." Not once, but three times, "I do not know the man."
At that moment, a rooster crows. As Pope Benedict wrote, "The crowing of the cock was regarded as a sign of the end of the night...For Peter cockcrow marked the end of the night of the soul, into which he had sunk."
That is the point of Peter's worst misery - but it would also reveal his true greatness: Peter does not despair. He sees the look of Jesus - disappointment for sure, but also mercy.
Pope Benedict contrasts Peter with Judas: In Judas we see the "perennial danger" that even after a person has been enlightened, he can "perish through a series of seemingly small infidelities." As Benedict observes, Judas cannot be explained in merely psychological terms. He has come under the dominion of a power - Satan had entered his soul.
What preserves Peter? Not his own power, that's for sure. It is the prayer of Jesus. Jesus warns Peter that Satan wants to sift him like wheat, but Jesus prays for him. He has a specific mission for Peter: "Strengthen your brothers."
By God's grace Peter does not despair. He does not shift the blame. No, he weeps tears of repentance. Peter is finally learning the great lesson. Jesus is giving Peter the key to unlocking the meaning of the resurrection. We will hear it this Sunday. Stay tuned.
Today we see the contrast between Judas and Peter. One despairs, the other turns back. This Sunday we will see how he begins to fulfill Jesus' command: Strengthen your brothers. Amen.
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