In the reading this week, I’m drawn to the story of Peter during the garden scene: primarily in Mark 14:27-52 (there are parallel accounts in all 4 gospels which give further detail), concluding in John 21.
At first glance, this looks sort of like Peter’s anti-highlight reel. He fails in 3 ways:
- He fails to recognize and overcome his own fear, choosing to deny association with Jesus
- He fails to keep watch and pray for himself not to fall into temptation, choosing to sleep
- He fails to notice Jesus’ plan and posture during his arrest, choosing to strike with violence
In Jesus’ hour of deepest desperation, he sees in Peter that his “spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” telling Peter to pray that he (Peter) will not succumb to temptation. He doesn’t explicitly say what temptation he’s referring to, and in light of Peter’s three immediate failures, it seems as if Peter has fallen into temptation. But we are told in Luke’s account that prior to any of these failures, Jesus prayed for Peter that “his faith may not fail” during Satan’s ‘sifting’ of the disciples (Lk 22:31-32).
The purpose of sifting is to reveal the quality of something—what is wheat and what is chaff? What is revealed when Peter is sifted these 3 times? His shortcomings, yes; but also, his resilience, his lingering with the Lord. Peter may be a failure, but he’s a returner. Jesus says, “when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus saw through Peter’s failures and looked forward to his return as a time when the failures revealed during his sifting would be used to strengthen others. In this way, Satan’s plan to unravel Peter is appropriated and repurposed by God to strengthen the church. When the resurrected Jesus shows up on the shore of the sea of Galilee, it’s Peter who’s the first one out of the boat and with the Lord. God’s power is perfected in weakness.
Sometimes I feel like chaff: a failure, with more spiritual ambition than follow through. We all experience sifting, a testing of our spiritual mettle, and Jesus intercedes on our behalf as our great High Priest calling us in the aftermath of our failings to return to Him so he can reinstate us. He sees wheat when I feel like chaff. He sees substance when I feel emptiness. And his confidence in me, like his confidence in Peter, assures me I can carry on. I’m reminded of the old Bob Carlisle song, “We fall down”. In the ballad a weary sojourner encounters a monk outside a monastery and asks him what it’s like to live in such a place. The monk replies “We fall down; we get up. We fall down; we get up. We fall down; we get up. And the saints are just the sinners who fall down and get up”
Lord Jesus, my Great High Priest who sees me and knows me, who loves me and intercedes for me, I confess that I am not all that I want to be, I do not desire what I want to desire and I do not live what I say I believe. I pray that in my failures what is revealed is not only the depths of my sinfulness, but the surpassing power of your grace. When I fall down pick me up, redeem my story and use me still. Oh how good is the mercy of God and the love of the Lord. I receive your love, Lord. Amen.