Yesterday, we saw how Matthew sets up the betrayal of two disciples in tandem, first with Judas agreeing to the meager price of thirty pieces of silver for his Lord and then with Jesus telling Peter that before the night is over, even he will deny Him three times. All of this takes place near the beginning of Matthew 26; by the end of the chapter, it's finding its resolution. In other words, it doesn't take long.
And here, too, we find the same duo in the same tandem, only reversed. Here, Peter comes first.
At the end of Matthew 26, Peter has indeed denied three times that he even knows Jesus at all, sitting around the fire with the servants near the courtyard. He's caught eyes with Jesus once and knows that the Lord knows His prediction came true - Peter has denied Him. And the cock crows and Peter, filled with shame and discouragement and disappointment in himself, embarrassed, defeated, walks away with his head in his hands. He weeps bitterly, broken, retreating to a place where he can process what he's just done.
What he's just done is the thing that he said he would never do. It wasn't even in his heart, he doesn't think. At least, he didn't know that it was. He truly loves Jesus, has really and authentically given his life to this Teacher. There's nothing in him that says that Jesus is untrustworthy or untrue; he knows that He's the real deal. He has even declared in his own voice, boldly, that Jesus is the Son of God.
Yet somehow, in this moment, without even thinking, he thought more of himself than of his Teacher, and he denied even knowing the Man. Peter has a lot to thinking about. He has a lot of himself he still has to figure out. He has, as we say in Christian circles, a lot of praying to do. His tears are a sign of his true heart, which is still in there somewhere - he just has to find it again.
His remorse says that he believes that he can.
Immediately after we see Peter walk away weeping at the end of Matthew 26, Matthew 27 begins with Judas hanging himself in a field, throwing the thirty pieces of silver on the ground beneath his feet.
Judas, too, feels bad about what he's done, but there's something different about him - see, this was in his heart all along and he knows it. He spent his entire time with Jesus figuring out what he could get out of it for himself, what kind of prestige and honor and riches he could come up with from the whole shebang before it inevitably ended, whether that be by political force or by natural death or something in between where the whole "Jesus" thing just runs its course in Jerusalem and everyone goes back to what they know in the Temple.
Judas, too, in his betrayal, recognizes clearly his own heart, comes to know something extremely real about himself, but for him, it is exactly what everyone else sees. It is exactly consistent with what he's done. Where Peter realizes he's done something out of character and grieves to recover what he's lost, Judas realizes what he's done is precisely in keeping with his character and finds no way out.
There's no way back to Jesus for Judas, or so he thinks. There's no way he can show himself again, not even to the other disciples, who know what he's done and are probably whispering about how that's exactly the kind of guy he is. And you can bet, too, that the experts in Moses's Teachings and the Pharisees want nothing to do with him, either, even though they found a purely utilitarian use for him quite briefly. After all, who wants to draw into their circle a guy who just betrayed Jesus? No one. That's who.
Which leaves Judas completely alone in the world...with himself. And he discovers rather quickly that he doesn't want to be with him, either. When that's the case, the only way out is to die and free yourself from the miserable disappointment of being you.
He throws the thirty pieces of silver on the ground under his feet as a message to anyone who may find his body, a message that says that he knows who he is, and he wishes there were a way for him to be anybody else. But his death says he couldn't find a way. So his remorse is known in showing that he recognizes himself, and it is better to be dead than to be Judas.
It's almost an apology...not just for betrayal, but for existing.
So what's happening here? Why is it that Peter, who denies he even knows Jesus at all, walks away with his head in his hands, weeping, while Judas, in whose betrayal recognizes exactly who Jesus is, hangs himself in a field all alone? Their hearts give us a clue, but it's not the whole story.