I have an odd habit of reading old sermons – really old sermons. I have found that preachers and scholars of the early and pre-plague medieval church had a talent for digging jewels out of scripture that we easily overlook today.
I’ve come across one such jewel while reading the Passion sermons of Pope Leo the Great. Leo takes note that Jesus showed mercy to Judas Iscariot to the last. (And this can be found in Sermon LVIII on vol. 12, p. 169 of the reprinted 2nd Series of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. And, lo, it is online as well.)
For at the Last Supper Jesus did not harshly confront or expose Judas, but instead avoided even naming him, giving the “mild” warning, “Verily I say to you that one of you is about to betray Me.” And before that, he did not even withhold the sacrament of the body and blood from him. Jesus gave Judas gracious and ample room to repent, even though the betrayer had already sold the Lord for 30 pieces of silver.
Having pointed this out, St. Leo then engages in a passionate discourse addressing Judas, beginning, “Why, unhappy Judas, dost thou not make use of so great lovingkindness?” He exhorts the betrayer, “Return to thy right mind; lay aside thy madness and be wise. Mercy invites thee, Salvation knocks at the door, Life recalls thee to life.”
It had not occurred to me that at the Last Supper Jesus was showing mercy to Judas and giving opportunity for repentance. But indeed he was. St. Leo has opened my eyes.
And what could have been if Judas had not so given himself over to Satan’s designs and then to despair? For Peter denied the Lord in the very hour of His Passion, not once, not twice, but three times. Yet Jesus gently gave him opportunity for repentance, and Peter availed himself of it and was restored and more. What could have been even with Judas?
In his Last Supper and Passion, Jesus gives us also opportunity for repentance and for life. Let us not be foolish like Judas. But let us follow the way of Peter, though also foolish numerous times (like us), nevertheless grasped hold of the mercy of Jesus, repented, and then followed Christ faithfully to the end.