31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
54 Then seizing [Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane], they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
–Luke 22.[31-34], 54-62 (NIV)
In today’s lesson from Luke we have drama of the highest order. It is a story we can all recognize because unfortunately all of us have been in Peter’s shoes to one extent or another. Yesterday I wrote about why our faith needs to be tested, in part, to verify and validate who we are (or are not). In that example, we looked at Abraham as a positive example. God tested him and Abraham passed the test by obeying God’s command to him. Abraham was able to demonstrate to both God and himself that he had the faith God expected him to have. And in the process, Abraham also discovered that God was a God whom he could trust in any and every circumstance. God too had passed the test.
In today’s lesson, we see a negative example of what can happen to us when we are tested. We can fail the test as Peter did. I can relate to Peter because in a lot of ways I am like him. Sitting in the comfort of the Upper Room with Jesus immediately before Jesus’ arrest, Peter was full of himself. He shot off his mouth with great bravado and claimed that he would never desert his Master and friend, that he would even be willing to die for Jesus. But Jesus would have none of that nonsense. Jesus knew better and he predicted as much.
Now in today’s lesson, the chickens have come home to roost. Jesus has been arrested and Peter has followed him to see how it would all play out. But he is recognized as one of Jesus’ followers and they call Peter on that. So what does this man do, the one who bragged that he would willingly die for Jesus? When he had the chance to demonstrate the sincerity of his love for Jesus, to put his money where his mouth was so to speak, Peter folded like a bad poker hand. Unlike Abraham, when Peter found himself tested severely, he could not deliver on his promises. It is an utterly heartbreaking story and there is no wonder why Peter went out and “wept bitterly,” especially after he had looked directly into his Lord’s eyes and had the shallowness of his very soul exposed. We don’t have to look at ourselves in the mirror very long to empathize with Peter because we are him.
And what can we expect from the world when we fail the test, when we fail to live up to our hopes and dreams and highest aspirations? Typically we can expect to get punched in the face. Like sharks, others will smell blood and circle around us in an attempt to finish us off. The world is not a particularly kind and merciful place. Don’t believe me? Think about Rep. Weiner and tell me where you saw anything that even remotely looked like mercy.
But it is to the glory of the Gospel and God’s great love for us that he does not give up on us, even when we fail him (and ourselves) miserably by not living as the creatures God created us to be. In his Gospel, John tells us that when Peter met his risen Lord, Jesus did not spurn or scold or reject him. No, Jesus restored Peter. This surely was painful for Peter (and likely for Jesus). But the point is that Jesus saw more in Peter than what Peter saw in himself, and Jesus moved to restore their relationship so that Peter might have the chance to see in himself what Jesus saw in him. There is nothing harder to get over than guilt over a failed relationship that cannot be adequately resolved because the other is no longer available to us so that we can ask forgiveness and work toward restoration. It is an awful burden for us to bear and it wears us down almost completely
Jesus didn’t let that happen to Peter and Jesus will not let that happen to us if, like Peter, we allow him.
No wonder our Lord tells us to come to him when we are weary and worn out by our lives and our various failures in life. When we do, we can expect his mercy and tender love for us so that coming to Jesus is not a burden at all for us. After all, how can mercy, grace, and undeserved forgiveness be a burden? No, in Jesus, we tap into the very Source of life and find forgiveness, refreshment, and healing. We don’t find this because of who we are but because of who Jesus is.
If you are one who is bearing the heavy burden of your various disappointments and failures, take heart and hope. The God who created you for relationship with him, and who loves you, has not given up on you. He sees in you the kind of human being he created you to be and he wants to help you become just that person. He asks simply that you have the needed humility to cast your cares, your worries, your burdens, and all that weighs you down on him, to trust him to work in and through you so that you can find newness of life and be refreshed in the process. He wants this for you, in part, so that he can use you as his agent to bring his love to bear on others in your life, just the way he has brought his love to bear on you.
Here is just what you need to find real hope and purpose of living. If you have not yet availed yourself of Jesus’ great love and power for you to help you when you become weary and discouraged, what are you waiting for?