I’m not saying it’s an undeserved reputation, either. So often I myself succumb to the temptation to make my life look better than it is, to pretend I’ve got it all figured out.
Why do we Christians do this?
I think it’s because we’ve been screwing it up from the very beginning.
I mean, really, read the New Testament. Particularly the Gospel of Mark. The first followers of Jesus were generally terrible at following him, even the apostles. They misunderstood his parables and his instructions. They doubted him constantly and abandoned him at the first sign of trouble. They itched for him to give them earthly power and justify the violence they wanted to commit.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The Gospels are especially critical toward Peter, sharing all the gory details of how and why he let his Lord and Teacher down. We all know the story of how he rashly promised he would never betray Jesus, but would follow him even to the point of death, followed by three outright denials that he had ever heard of him before the day had even begun.
What a great person to name as the Rock you’ll build your future Church on, right? I mean, what was Jesus thinking?
I was reading the Gospel of Luke today, the part where Jesus tells Peter he knows all about this future betrayal. And here’s the part that blows my mind, the part I never noticed before: not only has Jesus forgiven Peter ahead of time, he’s already thinking of how the betrayal can be redeemed. In other words, he’s already thinking of how Peter’s stupid, callous, thoughtless action can be the source of future glory.
Read for yourself what he says in Luke’s Gospel: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Did you catch that? Jesus knows Simon/Peter is going to experience intense temptation, and he knows Peter will give in, but the whole time, Jesus will be rooting for him. In fact, he’s already prayed for him ahead of time that he won’t be completely overcome, that he’ll still have it in him to turn around and follow Jesus again. And when he does, he can use it to strengthen other disciples when they, too, struggle and fail.
This is such an important quality for a leader. No wonder Jesus desires it for Peter. Peter’s humble repentance for his failure will make him capable of more compassion toward other flawed people. Not only that, it will give him practical experience of how to turn around when he’s tempted to wallow in failure, and he’ll be more able to help others turn around too.
I used to hate reading the Bible because it had so many screwed up people in it. I asked myself how these people could possibly be held up as moral examples.
And then, one day, the light bulb went on: the people in the Bible aren’t moral examples, except for Jesus. Everyone in the Bible except for Jesus made mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes, even if they were very close to God (hello, King David). Not only did God love them through all their inherent flaws and stupid mistakes, God also hatched a plan to save them from the horrible cycle of sin and guilt. The plan to redeem us, make us new, turn our ashes to new beautiful life, has been unfolding since we humans entered this crazy world.
Are we perfect? Never. At least, not in this lifetime. But through it all, God blesses us and constantly roots for us to turn back in the right direction. And when we do that, God will help us use the memory of our worst mistakes to strengthen our brothers and sisters.