"Master, why can I not follow you now?"

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?” 
Jesus answered him,“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.”
Peter said to him, “Master, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.”
(John 13:36-38)

 I think most people who take their spiritual lives seriously have asked Peter's question at one time or another: "Master, why can I not follow you now?" Maybe they've asked it many, many times.

There is a part of us that truly wants to be a living saint, to be all in for Christ. Sometimes, filled with zeal, we declare our commitment to him and make grand resolutions for what we are going to do to live out that promise.

Then we fail.

For some reason or another, the great plans fall through. Our sins and imperfections catch up with us and leave us wondering whether we were really worthy of our call to begin with. We feel like hypocrites...and in some sense we are.

If you can identify with that experience, take heart: you are in good company. St. Peter is right there with you in today's Gospel.

Different Kinds of Hypocrisy

I don't want to say there is such a thing as 'good' and 'bad' hypocrisy, but the contrast between Peter and Judas in the Gospel highlights that there are certainly two different kinds...and one is much worse than the other.

Let me be clear, both are bad. Sin is sin. Both Peter and Judas end up betraying Jesus, but for very different reasons and with very different outcomes.

Peter's hypocrisy is in the inconsistency between his belief and his actions. He sincerely wants to follow the Lord, even to the cross, but he fails to do it. He lets his weakness get the better of him and fails to live what he believes.

Judas, on the other hand, is a different (and much worse) kind of hypocrite. He has no good intention here at all. He is greedy, and his greed is going to allow him to betray his own friend and teacher with, of all things, a kiss of peace.

The Truth will Set us Free

The difference between Judas and Peter comes down to honesty: Peter is an honest man with flaws and failings. Judas is a liar.

God can work with our flaws and failings. Just like Peter, he know when our promises are bigger than our ability to keep them...and he will be there to pick us up when we fail. So long as we are honest, the Truth himself can set us free.

This is true even if we are afraid we might fall again. The sincere alcoholic who kneels down in the confessional sincerely hating his addiction and wanting to be free is forgiven...even if he falls off the wagon later that night. So long as his intention was true, the sacrament is effective. He will be forgiven by God.

And like Peter, with time, effort and patience, he will eventually find full healing from his affliction. God knows his heart, and he knows ours.

Living a Lie

Judas, on the other hand can't be set free. It isn't that God is not willing, or that his sin is unforgivable. God is always ready and willing to receive us into his loving embrace and there isn't anything God won't forgive for the sinner who truly repents. Judas can't be set free because he doesn't want to be.

God can't restore his relationship with us if we don't want him to do it. Relationships are a two way street. If we have decided that either we don't need forgiveness or that we are beyond hope of it, then, like Judas, we'll never ask for the pardon that is right at hand.

Get Back in the Fight

Thankfully, I think most of us are a 'Peter' and not a 'Judas'...and the key to being a 'Peter' is to not give up. Like Peter, weep over your sins if you need to, but have patience with yourself.

Get back up, get back in the fight and try again.

You will be victorious, because our Master is victorious.

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