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Begin Again

Jeannine Yousif

He chose to be Judas. No one chooses to be Judas! Except my son did. He was asked to play the role of Jesus in his school’s Passion play—a role that, historically, is offered to a student who teachers feel demonstrates the values of the school’s patron, St. Joseph: humility, compassion, and self-respect. (Insert proud mom smile!)

To which he said no. Why, you ask? Because in the role of Jesus you have to take your shirt off when he gets scourged and then “hung” on the cross. Instead, my son chose to play Judas. His reasoning in response to my pointed remarks of disagreement with his choice was: “We are all Judas, Mom. We all walk away from Jesus. He just didn’t walk back.” (Take out the dagger of pride and insert an arrow of humility to my heart.)

Why am I bringing up Judas so soon after Easter Sunday?

Because all of us are Judas, or can be. We have our moments when we choose sin—when we choose to serve ourselves, our comfort, or our pride over others. We have moments when we feel so overcome by shame and self-loathing that we cannot face the Lord. The enemy’s tauntings become the endless tape we replay in our minds causing hopelessness and despair. And like Judas, we will choose to walk away from Jesus. Our Lord knows all of this. He also knows that it probably won’t take too long after Easter Sunday for this to happen. 

Mass readings during the Easter season draw our attention to the communion Jesus desires to restore with His disciples following His crucifixion. In these readings we are reminded of the hope the resurrection promises, despite our very human choices. This past Sunday’s Gospel in which Peter encounters Jesus on the beach for the first time since his own betrayal is among my favorites. 

It’s early morning, and I imagine the scene to have been eerily quiet, save the noise of the boat rocking in the water. The weight from the discouragement of not having caught any fish was not nearly as heavy as the internal burden Peter was carrying, distraught over his repeated denial of our Lord in His time of need. Peter’s shame and self-loathing had to have been on par with Judas’ own desperate feelings. Rod Bennett writes in his book, These Twelve: The Gospel Through the Apostles' Eyes, that Peter may have been the worst betrayer among the close friends of Jesus.[1]

Scripture reveals that Peter showed himself to be overconfident, prideful, and arrogant so often throughout Jesus’ ministry. He denied Jesus’ own words to him, denied the faults Jesus was pointing out to him, and ultimately denied knowing Jesus. Following Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16 hinting of His Passion to come, Peter takes our Lord aside and rebukes him: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus responds to Peter’s denial of His words by calling out the enemy in him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Matthew 16:23). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells Peter that Satan will indeed take hold of him, and Peter argues, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you” (Luke 22:33). We know what follows is Jesus’ foretelling of Peter’s ultimate denial that happens only a few short hours later. 

Flashbacks of his own bravado and lack of humility had to have been tormenting Peter in the boat that morning on the Sea of Tiberias. And yet in a flash of acknowledgement of our Risen Lord in the distance, Peter, in his despair, does not turn away as Judas did. Instead he leaps toward Jesus. He leaps toward reconciliation, forgiveness, and restoration. He turns away from self-destruction and self-rejection and emphatically chooses the love of Jesus. Fr. John Bartunek writes of this moment in Scripture: “Once so self-reliant and independent, so authoritative and in control, now Peter climbs onto the shore wet and bedraggled, overjoyed to kneel at Jesus’ feet and embrace his Lord.”[2]

In Acts 5 following his reconciliation with Christ, Peter along with other followers, is brought in front of the Sanhedrin and high priests. This time Peter does not deny Christ. He stands in front of this crowd and boldly proclaims, We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:29-32). Following the punishment inflicted, Peter and the other apostles “left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of His name” (Acts 5:41).

Do you see the striking difference in Peter? Peter, bathed in the mercy of Christ and overflowing with humility, is transformed. Relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit instead of his own strength, Peter desires only to glorify Jesus. He rejoices, not denies. What a gift Peter’s transformation is to us! When our own discouragement and self-rejection is as intense and overwhelming as it was for Peter, we need only to look to Scripture to be reminded that our risen Lord is in constant pursuit of communion with us.  

“There is nothing you can ever have done, nowhere you can ever have been in your life that can ever stop you from turning right now to God, asking forgiveness if you need it—and begin again.”[3]

Judas, lacking in this supernatural grace and unable to hold on just a little longer, missed his opportunity to begin again in communion with Jesus. Let’s not miss ours. Yes, there will be times when we will walk away from Jesus, but more important is our choice to turn back and begin again. 

[1] Rod Bennett, These Twelve: The Gospel Through the Apostles’ Eyes (Catholic Answers Press, 2022).
[2] Fr. John Bartunek, The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer (Circle Press, 2007).
[3] Fr. Timothy Gallagher, Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement: The Wisdom and Spiritual Power of Venerable Bruno Lanteri (EWTN Publishing, Inc, 2019).

 

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