Jesus chose Peter as the rock on which the church is founded, and so Peter’s life is an exemplar for us of the way our lives should be lived. At the other extreme is Judas, who is an example of the worst in human life.
But here is a perplexing thing: both Peter and Judas are guilty of the same sin. Each of them betrayed Christ.
Now you might think that the difference between Judas and Peter is that Peter repented and Judas did not. But actually Judas repented too. He confessed his sin to the Jewish authorities, and he repented what he had done.
So what exactly is the difference between Peter, who represents for us the love on which the Church is founded, and Judas, who represents the worst lack of love?
In the Gospel Reading of the reunion between Peter and Jesus after the resurrection, Jesus asks Peter—and asks him three times, “Peter, do you love me?”
And what Peter says in response is, “Yes, Lord, I do love you”—and he says it in answer to Jesus three times, once for each time Peter denied Christ.
And isn't this just where Peter and Judas differ? Finding himself a betrayer, Judas let go of the love he had had for Jesus and threw himself away, as an ugly, broken thing. But Peter, who wept bitterly over his denial of Jesus, didn't collapse or give up afterwards. And so he never stopped loving Jesus either.
And that is why Jesus elicited from Peter the profession of love—because it was true. Peter did love him. Peter always loved him.
In the broken world we live in, this is the paradigm of loving: holding on, never letting go, never ceasing to love even in the midst of the evil we do. This is the standard by which human loves are to be measured. The gates of hell cannot prevail against this love. The church is founded on it.
Finding himself sinful, Judas killed himself. Finding himself similarly sinful, Peter cleaved to Christ. Peter let nothing, not even his own sins, introduce any distance between him and the Lord he loved.
That is the difference between Peter and Judas. And that is why Peter is the rock on which the church is founded.