Three Reflections on Betrayal, Denial, and Forgiveness (Matthew 26)

peter judas betray deny

Extended Quote from Destination: Known, Readings for Holy Week in the Upper Room Disciplines (2012) by Thomas R. Steagald
Sometimes in our familiarity and haste, we bypass verses of scripture. Because we already know the story of who “betrayed” Jesus, our attention in this passage [John 13:21-32] jumps quickly ahead to the conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter, the piece of bread, and Judas’s leaving the meal to meet with the religious officials.

But what of verse 22: “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking?” …

Could it be that each of the disciples is humble enough, uncertain enough, to know that given the right set of circumstances or stressors, any one of them has it within him to do what Judas would in fact do?…

For only those who love Jesus can betray him. His enemies might hate him; others might disregard or ignore him, but only those who sit at the table can get up and leave, and only those close enough to kiss him can give the kiss of death. That Judas is the one who guided the soldiers to Gethsemane on fresh-washed feet, his breath smelling of sacrament, is a particular instance of what is possible for all disciples.

It is unfortunate that we so quickly rush to blame Judas, so quickly leave him and this verse of scripture behind; for indeed, this Holy Week calls us to examine ourselves, to hear Jesus’ prediction, uncertain of whom else he might be speaking.

Forgive me, Lord, when I turn away from you and your purposes. Amen.

Matthew 26:21-35
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” … Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

The Seat of Greatest Grace by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Jesus, my Friend,
my Beloved, my Person,
I love you, and I will falter.
I will deny you. I will betray you.
Three times, ten thousand times
I will deny you.
The silver pieces lie in my pocket
I have the nails
And you, knowing, invite me to your table,
to the place of honor even,
this seat of greatest grace,
beside you,
to share your bread with me,
and lay down your body for me
I can hardly look into the sun
of such forgiveness,
love’s empty tomb
that defeats me,
re-makes me.

I confess. I return.
Knowing, I follow,
drawn in your grace,
this burden that is light.

Matthew 26:74-75
Then Peter began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Denial, by Steve Garnaas Holmes
I deny you, Christ,
when I deny my own divinity.
I deny you when I deny
the divinity of those I condemn.
I deny you when I do not hear you
in the oppressed and rejected.
I deny you when I turn
from my glorious giftedness.
I deny you when I am afraid
to stand with those at risk.
I deny you when in my guilt
I doubt your love.
And still, you love.

Let remembering’s bitterness awaken me.
Let my weeping be my wisdom.

To the frightening, to the infinite,
to the compassionate, to the holy,
help me say yes.

Let me die with yes on my lips.

I am grateful for the writing ministry of Steve Garnaas Holmes. His work inspires me, challenges me, and draws me close to God. Find more of his work at and consider subscribing. 

4 thoughts on “Three Reflections on Betrayal, Denial, and Forgiveness (Matthew 26)

    • Thank you Ragazza for your thoughtful question. I’m sorry you were betrayed. That’s a very deep kind of pain because it usually comes from someone we’ve trusted, someone who we’ve welcomed into a special closeness.

      I’ve found it helpful in situations like this to understand what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.
      1. Forgiveness recognizes the pain, anger, and harm of the betrayal. We can be honest and feel it fully.

      2. Forgiveness allows for consequence of action- such as criminal prosecution.

      3. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness does not require us to remain in relationship with those who hurt us, especially those who are dangerous and those who have no intention of changing. Reconciliation requires the one who does harm to re-earn our trust through an extended period of true change seen in both words and actions, even restitution.

      4. Forgiveness extends an undeserved grace to the one who hurts us. We, by the grace of God, make a conscious decision to stop the cycle of revenge and violence. We do not return and “eye for an eye.” This takes time, because we want to hold a grudge and continue hating. Forgiveness is turning the resentment, bitterness, pain, and hate over to God for healing and help. We often have to do this again and again as the trauma of the situation resurfaces again and again. Holding on to unforgiveness and hate is like holding on to acid- it will eat us and continue to hurt us. God gives us a way forward with forgiveness. There is healing and hope.

      5. Forgive and forget isn’t helpful. We remember what happened to us. We learn from it, but we don’t hold on to it and allow it to continue to hurt us. We remember so we can testify to God’s healing power in the situation and in our lives.

      Ragazza, you are not a bad person. You are a person who has experienced something painful and bad which is still hurting you. I hope these words are helpful to your healing. May God bless you, comfort you, and strengthen you as you let go and forgive. – Lisa <

      • I know. I’ve been mad and upset for six years, I guess it’s not normal to be angry because of the same reason, my mind couldn’t grasp the meaning of forgiveness no matter how hard I compromise.

      • Feeling angry is a common and understandable response to betrayal. The anger is neither good nor bad. It’s what you do with the anger. A friend recently let go of something he’d been holding on to for decades. That is available to you as well. Have a conversation with God about it. God will help you, especially in those areas where you do not understand and do not have the strength.

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