“As a model for Christian discipleship, this passage assumes that we will not always prove faithful. We will fail despite our best intentions and the Lord’s intercession, but the passage is open-ended. The end of the story has yet to be written. What do we do with our failures? Do we let them stand as the final verdict on us, or do we turn back from them and use them to strengthen our resolve in the future and help those who face trials that we now know from the inside out? Peter is the model disciple, not because he never failed, but because he turned back.”R. Alan Culpepper in New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume VIII: Luke and John
Simon Peter: I confess that I have often simplified your story to build distance between us. Your extravagant gestures of faith feel jarring compared to your hiding and denying in the darkness. But Luke 22:31-34 stopped me cold this morning. I kept pouring over the words.
“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 siblings.’ 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
Jesus prays for you, knowing what is to come. You assume yourself to be strong, knowing not how you will respond when it all goes down. We see your folly and weep at your foolishness. You are our teachable moment of naïve faith, boasting before entering the true darkness where only God-incarnate can endure the raging violence.
This juxtaposition is something that I would want to hide if it had happened to me. I would like to forget this part of the story and hide it away in the basement cellar. I would wrap it tightly in old clothes and cover it with trinkets from the past, which no one would ever find.
But not you. Your history isn’t hidden but takes center stage in Holy Week. Every year, we retell how you denied Jesus in his time of need.
“This man was also with him,” a girl says, pointing as you try to avoid recognition.
“I do not know what you are talking about!”
This morning, what shocked me is that this isn’t just a story that the early church told. This story is one that you regularly told. You became an apostle, turning your private testimony into public record: what Jesus warned you, how you responded, the cock crowing, your tears falling. You didn’t shy away from the details of how and when your faith failed. You did what Jesus had prayed you would: you strengthened your siblings with this embarrassing tale.
Conversations with a mentor have got me thinking recently about stories that I hide from myself – the ones that are complicated and messy, best suited for hiding in the basement. Uncovering and telling the stories requires wading courageously through vulnerable waters with faith in something other than myself.
Simon Peter: you turned back and told the truth, even when it must have hurt to expose how your faith failed. You knew that a faith that returns is a powerful one. Your honest truth-telling invites us to join you, remembering the stories of when our faith failed, sifted like wheat. We can connect with you, for we are all like you – both Simon (mortal, flawed, complicated, messy, of the earth) and Peter (called, prayed for by Jesus, forgiven, sanctified, sent out).
This Holy Week, I’m trusting you to be honest about how it all happened. Tell me, again, about your darkest hour, which coincided with The Darkest Hour for our savior. I don’t trust Judas to tell me how the story goes, for he didn’t return and share his truth. He hid from the disciples and feared there would be no forgiveness in this mortal life.
Mince not the words, hide not the reality. Show me what happens when our faith is sifted like wheat. And then teach me how to come out of hiding. Lead me to find the tomb empty and forgiveness emanating from our crucified, risen Lord.