Every year I’m struck by something new in the story of Jesus’ passion. One year it was how Barabbas is symbolic of all of us, even down to the meaning of his name. Another year it was Jesus’ concern for Mary even as He was dying. What apprehended me this year was a simple observation that Jesus prayed for Simon Peter.
In Luke’s account of the last supper, shortly before they depart for the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31–32, NLT) Simon Peter responds by declaring his willingness to go to prison or even die to protect Jesus. Jesus warns him, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”” (Luke 22:34, NLT) We know the rest of the story, how Simon Peter did deny Jesus three times and that a rooster did bear witness to his failure.
None of us like to take tests. We take them because we have to. Whether it’s to find out want’s wrong with our bodies. Or to prove that we have the understanding and knowledge to move on to a new phase in our life, our career, or our studies. The test before Peter and the rest of the disciples had one major purpose. It wasn’t to prove their faithfulness or willingness to lay down their lives. Satan’s ultimate plan may have been to shame Jesus through the failure of the disciples, but God had other plans. Before this test, Peter and the rest were infected with pride. The verses immediately before describe how the disciples bickered over their ranking in the group. God used the disciples utter failure to completely destroy their pride.
Sometimes Jesus tests us to demonstrate something to us. Like how we can trust him no matter how strong the winds of life blow. Sometimes the tests show us a weakness, or that something we thought of as a strength was really a liability. Notice that Jesus did not pray for the test to be removed, He knew they needed it. Jesus did pray that once they failed, once they had confronted their pride, that they would return to each other again and become the community of faith He had envisioned all along. Most often we ask Jesus to take away the tests of life that we are facing. There is nothing wrong with that, even Jesus asked God the Father if there was a way other than the test before Him. God may also have a greater purpose for the tests we encounter. I’m not suggesting that we should adopt a fatalistic, what will be will be, attitude, but that we look for God’s hand in the struggles of life as well as in the blessings.
Jesus’ prayer was answered. The disciples did gather together again into close community. Peter was restored and commissioned to “feed my sheep.” The pride and bickering over position and responsibility are never again an issue among the disciples. They weren’t perfect or complete, God had more lessons in store for them. Sometimes, we have to fail the test to really see God’s grace and love. I’m not saying we should intentionally flunk out. But when we try our best and fail anyway we can learn something new about God and ourselves if we’ll only turn again to Jesus.