No one likes failure. You may never have experienced it, but it happens, even to the smartest and wisest of people – physicians when they see a patient die knowing they might have done better; Wall Street brokers when they give bad advice to their clients. And, while we may find it hard to acknowledge, too often we fail those we love most. If we have a conscience, we are embarrassed. A sense of failure can wound us deeply.
As another Easter season is upon us it is worth taking a moment to consider the failure of two of Jesus’ close followers – Judas and Peter.
Judas. We read in John’s Gospel that six days before the Passover Jesus and his followers had dinner with their friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. During the meal Mary broke open a jar of very expensive perfume oil and poured it over Jesus’ feet. Judas’s response was to ask, ‘Why wasn’t the perfume sold and the money given to the poor?’ John tells us that Jesus said this, ‘not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief (John 12:6).’
Judas’ concern for the poor was hypocritical, for underneath he was a greedy man. And that is why his love for Jesus proved to be conditional. That’s why his kiss at the Passover meal turned out to be treacherous, for he was the kind of follower who supported Jesus as long as he thought there was something in it for him. When Judas saw that Jesus was not fulfilling his expectations he cast him off.
Judas had a choice. He had been a privileged follower of Jesus, but at the end of three years he chose to reject him. His decision was his own, not mechanistically predetermined. The other Gospel writers tell us that later, realizing what he had done, he was filled with self-pity and committed suicide.
Peter’s problem was pride. Luke tells us that Peter denied Jesus three times and at the third denial the rooster crowed. At that, Jesus turned and looked across at Peter (Luke 22:61). What was in that look of Jesus – reproach, disappointment, dismissal? I suspect it was love – love for a failure.
Luke tells us that Peter went out and wept bitterly. His tears weren’t those of a sulky child, or a romantic, wanting to relieve overwrought emotion. His tears were those of a penitent who is honest about failure and desires to turn and follow the right course. Seeing Jesus’ look he was both humbled and repentant.
Judas and Peter. Let me ask: How do you intend to cope with failure? We’ve all disappointed the Lord – betrayed him, turned our backs on him – sometimes for many years. We may have sold him for silver, a career, or a relationship. There may have been times when we’ve denied him and said we don’t know him.
The test is not the dimension of our sin, but our response to failure – self-pity or repentance? God does not forgive remorse but he does forgive the repentant heart.
A prayer of confession: Almighty and most merciful God, I have gone my own way, not loving you as I ought, nor loving my neighbors as I should. I have done what I ought not to have done, and I have not done what I ought to have done. I justly deserve your condemnation. Father, forgive me. Turn my heart to love and obey your will. Strengthen me by your Spirit to live and work for your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.