Thursday, 3 March 2016

Time for a good cry?

Immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly… When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse… Matthew 26:74-75; 27:3.

I have to confess that I’m not really the tearful type. I use the word “confess” there deliberately, because I see this as a failing in me. I comfort myself by thinking that probably I’m just (a) too English and (b) too male, but I’m not sure that’s much of an excuse. Tears, surely, can be a good and healthy thing.

So there’s a bit of me that quite envies those who cry easily. And that must include Peter here.

It’s been a bad, bad day. Peter has seen his master Jesus led away for trial. He can sense what is going to happen: the unspeakable horror of crucifixion. He sees that all the hopes he has pinned on this man are about to be brought to nothing.

And even worse, from his own personal point of view, he has done the very thing Jesus had said he would do, and which he had vigorously rejected; he has disowned Jesus three times (26:34-35). The crowing of the cock, foretold by Jesus as the signal of his failure, penetrates his heart like a knife.

And so (what vivid words these are!) “he went outside and wept bitterly”. As The Message puts it, “he cried and cried and cried”. Can you see him…?

Poor Peter!

And yet at the same time, surely, happy Peter. His tears are healthy, showing the depth of his sorrow and anguish. And it won’t be long before the risen Jesus takes him quietly aside with words of comfort, healing and restoration (John 21:15-19). No recriminations. No stern “Didn’t I tell you?” No finger-wagging “Remember this next time”.

No. Just “Do you love me? Feed my lambs… Feed my sheep…Follow me.” It doesn’t actually say so, but I can’t help wondering if Peter shed some more tears – tears of a totally different kind – on that occasion.

With Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus to the Roman soldiers in Gethsemane, it’s different. Certainly, he repents – after a fashion. But Matthew uses a different word from the normal “repent”: “he was seized with remorse”. He returns the money he was paid, and he confesses his treachery: “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood”.

But there is no mention of tears such as Peter shed. We are left to speculate that Judas was angry and frustrated with himself, sorry about what has happened, but not really sorry for his sin. And, sadly, he feels he has no alternative but to kill himself.

A wonderful new start for Peter. A terrible, tragic end for Judas. How many human lives over the centuries have followed one or other of those trajectories?

I long ago gave up trying to make sense of what might have gone on in Judas’ mind. There’s bit of me that wants to say to God: “But, Lord, he was sorry for what he did! He did confess his sin! He did give the money back. Can there be no forgiveness for him?”

I ask myself: suppose Judas had fought his way through to Jesus, thrown himself at his feet and cried out for forgiveness… might things have been different? But then, of course, he didn’t…

In the end I give up. God is God, and who am I to question his ways? His justice and his mercy are perfect. We read in his word that “he is not willing that anyone (including, presumably, Judas) should perish, but that everyone should come to repentance”. (And who said that? Peter! – in 2 Peter 3:9. Who should know better than him?).

The destinies that overtake different human beings are truly a mystery. I read in the paper this morning about the young student recently murdered in Egypt. It appears that before they killed him his murderers tortured him for a week. Can your mind or mine fathom how fellow members of our human race could do such a thing? Or why such a thing should happen to that young man?

And then I read of lives wonderfully transformed by the power of God’s grace – gang members, say, whose eyes are opened to the wickedness and futility of their life-styles, and who devote themselves to promoting peace and reconciliation.

Yes, in sinful human nature (and that means yours and mine, of course) there are depths beneath depths beneath depths – but also unimaginable and wonderful heights for those who truly repent.

No, I don’t really know what to make of Judas, but then it isn’t for me to second-guess a just and holy God. But I do know what happened to Peter! And I thank God for his outburst of tears.

May someone reading this find the same release, the same repentance, the same restoration.

The same forgiveness. Amen.

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