Failure and Faith

 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!”  Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”     Luke 22: 31-34 

Tucked into Luke’s telling of Holy Week, at the end of the Last Supper and before Jesus’ arrest is this exchange between Jesus and Simon Peter. Jesus has just told the disciples he will be betrayed by one of them. This is immediately followed by a discussion among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. It is an interesting flow of logic. If we didn’t betray Jesus, we are great. The disciples seem to have a low threshold for greatness.

Often with this conversation between Jesus and Peter we focus Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial. But what Jesus has to say in the first sentence is interesting.

The statement that Satan has demanded to test the disciples may remind us of the beginning of the story of Job. Whether or not we think Satan can make demands of God, the Bible and our experience tells us that the faithful are not spared the trials, tests, and temptations of life.

But what Jesus says next is most interesting, “…but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

But we know, later that same night Peter denies knowing Jesus. Peter’s faith ultimately does not fail. But it did clearly fail that one night. Is Jesus’ prayer not answered?

Or is that night of weakness not actually a failure? I don’t think we can make that case. But it does seem that temporary failure does not cut us off from Jesus. Failure does not have to be permanent. We can turn back, repent and recover our faith. We can after failure be a blessing to others, “strengthen your brothers”.

Failure or faithfulness are not single events. Rather they are the result of a lifetime of actions. Sometimes we are faithful. Sometimes we fail. But when we turn away, we can turn back. And even our turning back can become a blessing to others. Our turning back can show others that they, also, can return after failure.  Failure does not put us outside God’s love and care. What good news!

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