Two Betrayers: Reader's theater: a conversation between Judas and Peter

In some ways, Judas and Peter were not that different: They both sinned. One could argue thatjudas's betrayal was worse than Peter's denial. But Jesus' words in Matthew 10:33 indicate that Peter's sin was deadly serious too: "Whoever disowns me before others, I will also deny before my Father in heaven."

Where the two differed was in how they dealt with their guilt. One way led to despair and suicide, the other to forgiveness and new life. In Acts 2:38 Peter calls others to seek forgiveness: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

[When presenting the drama, have the two characters stand side by side. Judas acts defensively, straining to show that he wasn 't really so very different from Peter. Peter is composed, not defensive in the least. Relaxed. He has nothing to prove.]

Judas: I know that you people think of me as the black sheep of the twelve disciples. I'm.not here to tell you that my life was as pure as driven snow, but I want you to know I was not a monster; I was a trusted disciple—part of Jesus' inner circle. I was one of the twelve Jesus sent out two by two to cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach the message of the kingdom of God. Fantastic!

And Jesus was great: captivating as a speaker, powerful as a healer, grand in his claim to be the Christ, the Messiah. I figured that I was in on the ground floor of something really big and good.

Peter: So did I. When Jesus said, "Follow me," I left my family fishing business and followed, just like that. I believed that he was the Messiah, the Christ, the one who would bring in the kingdom of God. In fact, I was the first of the disciples to be clear on that. Jesus asked us, "Who do you say that I am?" And I said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." A great day. He called me "blessed" that day.

Judas: Let me tell you the rest of the story about Peter. People think of me as such a devil. But Jesus also called him "Satan"—not long after he called him "blessed." Jesus talked about dying, and Peter here said, "Never Lord! This shall never happen to you!" Jesus said to him, "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus never called me Satan.

Peter: I was going to tell them about that. We were all upset about the thought of Jesus dying. It didn't make sense that Christ, the Son of God, would die.

Judas: [impatiently] I'll say. Jesus seemed bent on self-destructing. All this death-wish talk. How could he die and still bring in the kingdom of God? Jesus never was very practical, but he seemed to lose it toward the end. He never did like the Pharisees, but toward the last it seemed he went out of his way to alienate them—telling them they were children of the devil and all. As if our real enemies weren't the Romans.

And then there was that woman anointing him with twenty thousand dollars worth of perfume. The waste! And the morbidity of it. To prepare his body for burial, he said. I gave three years of my life to this man, and he wanted to die. Didn't he owe me something?

That anointing deal did it for me. I went straight to the Pharisees and asked them what they'd give me to hand Jesus over. Figured if he wanted to die anyway, I'd help him out. Sort of a mercy killing. Liked the way those Pharisees did business. Practical. Concrete. No C.O.D. Cash up front. Thirty pieces of silver. The price of a slave. Enough to help me get on my feet after a three-year fiasco. Thought I deserved that at least.

Jesus tried to make me feel guilty, though, at the last supper. Somehow he knew of my business move, and he showed me it was a bad deal. He said that the one who had dipped his hand in the bowl with him was going to betray him. Eating together that way was a sign of friendship in our day. He tried to make me feel like a betrayer rather than a wise businessman. Didn't work. I figured, if the ship's going down, I'm not going down with it. I didn't pretend to be a hero [looks at Peter with contempt].

Peter: I did. Though I wasn't pretending. If Jesus was going down, I decided I was going down too. After Judas left, Jesus told us we'd all fall away from him. I said, "No way. These guys might—I won't." Then Jesus told me that I was going to disown him three times before the rooster crowed that night. My first reaction was, "Over my dead body." I told Jesus that too.

I was cocksure of myself. I didn't pray for strength when Jesus told me to in the garden. If you're going to fight, you need sleep.

Judas: He fought all right. Cut off the ear of the high priest with a sword when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Things were looking dicey for a bit there. But Jesus made him stop. And that made me sure I was right: Jesus was bent on self-destructing. I was just moving up the clock a little.

By the way—my greeting Jesus with a kiss. It wasn't as distasteful as you think. It was more like a handshake with a respectful nod [illustrate] than a kiss in your culture.

Peter: Handshake ... [increasingly perturbed]. When I saw Judas leading the high priest's thugs to capture Jesus, my blood boiled. I was ready. Like he [nodding to Judas] said, I let 'em have it. I was showing Jesus what I was made of. I was no coward.

[subdued] Until I saw that he was just going to let them take him. And us too. Like boxers walking toward their opponents with their hands down. I couldn't take that. None of us could. Better to get out of there to fight another day.

I went to the courtyard of the high priest where they took Jesus. I wanted to keep tabs on things. Scope it out. Figure out a way to get Jesus out of this jam.

But then that girl recognized me. Said I was with Jesus. I got out of that one. Said I didn't know what she was talking about. And I took off toward the gate. But at the gate, another girl did the same thing. I was starting to attract attention now. So I said, "I don't know the man." But that didn't get me out of the pickle. Others were checking me out. Said my accent gave me away as Jesus' follower. This was getting serious. So I said—I won't tell you what I said. But I swore I didn't know the man. [pause] The man. I called my Lord Jesus "the man."

Judas: Behold your Christian hero, Peter the Great.

Peter: [unflustered] Then the rooster crowed. I had done just what Jesus said I'd do. Just what I said I'd never do. Jesus' words from long ago came rushing over me like a wave: "Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny him before my Father in heaven." I had disowned Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. The one who made me. And loved me. Who'd filled my heart with his good news of rest and life. Who'd pulled me out of the water when my faith was weak and I was about to drown. Who'd said if anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. My Lord and my friend. I was one of Jesus' three best friends. And when it got tough for him, I bailed out! I let him stand alone. I chose to save my hide rather than stand firm with my Savior and Lord.

I went out and wept bitterly. My heart was broken over what I had done.

Judas: You people always give him credit just for crying. Big deal. Goes out and bawls his little eyes out. So what? If he was so sorry, why didn't he walk over to Jesus and stand by him—try to make things right?

[voice loaded with regret] I felt awful too. When the Pharisees actually decided to put Jesus to death, what I had done hit home. I mean, I still didn't admire Jesus' business sense, but I saw clearly that he was innocent. And good. Good to me. More than good. The divine majesty and beauty I had seen in Jesus over three years flooded my heart. I nearly choked with remorse. I had betrayed him. Jesus. The one who called me "friend" on the night I handed him over to his enemies.

[getting combative] But I didn't just go off and cry. I tried to make things right. I went back to the chief priests and elders and returned the money. And 1 said, "I have sinned; I've betrayed innocent blood."

I tried to undo the damage, but the Pharisees wouldn't listen. I couldn't make it right. I had betrayed the Son of God. My huge sin weighed like a boulder on my back. I couldn't bear the thought of carrying that guilt around my whole life. So I hanged myself.

[contemptuously gesturing toward Peter, walking down off the platform into the congregation] He gets credit for being the good guy. But I'm the one who really took my sin seriously. This whole business of you people making him the good guy and me the bad guy just makes me sick. It's not fair!

Peter: [feeling compassion for Judas, softly] Forgiveness isn't fair, Judas. I know. I wish you did too.

[Judas exits out the back of the sanctuary, Peter the front, making visual their parting of ways.]