Judas kissing Jesus in the garden; Peter denying his shackled Lord three times before the cock crowed; the Prodigal Son returning to fall abject at his father’s feet: three stories we all know well, united by a single theme. Betrayal.
Judas' kiss was but a single moment in his betrayal of Christ, but it has become a portrait of treachery, a representation of just how low one can go in the name of greed, confusion, discontent, manipulation, or whatever other motive one can conjure up for selling out one's friend, Master, and Savior.
Certainly setting up a beloved friend for a fall to torture and death is an extreme, outrageous act of betrayal. Chosen for his initial enthusiasm and trusted with the treasury, Judas had turned his back on his Master for worldly lures.
Judas' treachery triggered a series of events, including Peter's triple denial, as foretold by Christ Himself and vociferously rejected by Peter as something which he would never do. Peter denied Christ in word, “I do not know him” but he was “in denial” as soon as he let his pride overturn humility in his arrogant, boastful proclamations that he would never deny his Lord. He then denied Christ by following “at a safe distance” as Jesus was led away. Through words, actions, and attitude, Peter wished to distance himself from the Christ in chains, and he therefore betrayed, at least temporarily, his Lord.
There is betrayal at the heart of the parable of The Prodigal Son as well. Surrounded by all of the love and comfort of a caring father, his son rejects that life to “see the world”. But the betrayal was not in the son's desire to leave the father and see the world. All parents know that sooner or later their children will want to move on and live their own lives, and there is nothing wrong with that. It would be extreme and foolish to label all children who leave home to build their lives and future as betrayers! No, the Prodigal's betrayal came when he lived a life contrary to everything his father had taught him to value, respect, and stand for.
By living a life of sin, greed, gluttony, and loss morals, this son was betraying his father's teachings. The betrayal in The Prodigal Son, then, was a spiritual and moral one in which the son rejected the father's teaching and example for the lures of the world.
Despite their different circumstances and characters, all three stories are examples of betrayal. In all three we see fatherly love and care rejected by word and action. Clearly, Judas' betrayal is the most extreme, the most sinful, in that he alone delivered his innocent Lord to an enemy through treachery.
We might have trouble identifying ourselves with Judas' betrayal, but in Peter and the Prodigal Son it is easier to see ourselves. Yet the difference is in degree, not in kind. How many times have we betrayed Christ in word and action, gone astray from the path we were taught, failed to stand up for our faith and its teachings? Are we sitting next to Peter warming ourselves while the unpopular Christ is judged nearby? When we are ungrateful for what God has given us, and throw it all away to live by our pleasures, aren't we a little “prodigal” ourselves? When we purport to be followers, to pray, to show devotion, yet we live by worldly values over spiritual ones, aren't we kissing Christ in the garden as Judas did?
Still these betrayals weren't the end of the story. If the Prodigal Son, Peter, and Judas are all guilty of varying forms of betrayal, why did things turn out so well for two of them and so poorly for Judas? We might be inclined to reason that, since Judas' betrayal was the most severe, it makes sense that his fate would be the most unfortunate, but that would be oversimplifying things and missing the point.
The real difference between the Prodigal Son, Peter and Judas was in their response to their sin of betrayal. While all three wept bitterly upon realizing their sin, only Peter and the Prodigal Son asked for forgiveness in true sorrow and humility. Despite their anguish over their wrongs, Peter and the Prodigal Son allowed their love to drown out their pride and inflame their faith in ultimate forgiveness and mercy. Judas, on the other hand, followed his first sin with perhaps an even greater one. Instead of humbly and sorrowfully believing in God's ultimate mercy and power to forgive, Judas fell into despair and cowardice and permanently rejected the Holy Spirit, sealing his fate forever. In the end, Judas did not believe that God would, or could, forgive so horrible an act of betrayal, and so he did not even ask for forgiveness. The true tragedy is that, after following Christ for so long, Judas had not learned the lesson that being a follower of Christ does not mean that we will not sin, but that we will be forgiven if we humbly, sorrowfully, and sincerely ask. Considering that Jesus asked His Father to forgive his crucifiers, can we really doubt that He would not have forgiven Judas had the fallen disciple sincerely and sorrowfully asked?
Given this, why we should want to live stained by sin when we have such a loving, caring, forgiving, merciful Father waiting with open arms for us? Armed with these lessons, we will not utter “Never I Lord!” or “Is It I?”, but “Dear Lord, help me to return to You”.
© Copyright 2003 Catholic Exchange
Gabriel Garnica is a licensed attorney and educator with over 20 years teaching experience at the college, business school, and middle school levels. He has a BA in Psychology from St. John's University in New York and a J.D. from The New York University School of Law. Mr. Garnica writes extensively on spiritual and educational issues and conducts seminars on time management, leadership, and personal development.