Monday, February 14, 2011

Sifted like wheat

I have read through Luke at least twice, most of it more than that, but for some reason I never specifically noted Luke 22:31-34. I don't know why, since it's super cool and tells us something really important about Peter.

We haven't seen Peter in a while, not since the Transfiguration. He'll show up here and there asking a question or something, but nothing terribly important. That is, until the night of the Lord's Supper. According to Luke, Jesus sends Peter and John to prepare the room (Mark only records two anonymous disciples--likely an example of Peter's humility when Mark was recording it). They eat passover, and Jesus foretells that someone is going to betray him. After a brief discussion, Jesus turns him attention to Peter. I would imagine that they might withdraw from the general conversation, because what Jesus says to Peter definitely does not qualify as polite dinner conversation.

He begins with what is possibly the most ominous opener in the history of openers: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat" (Luke 22:31). Now, wheat is sifted by being put into a large basket with a mesh bottom and tossed into the air. This causes the wheat to separate from it's casing and other trash that might be in there. When applied to a person, this does not sound like fun times. At this time Peter may remember, as I did, the story of Job. Satan is poking at God, God responds by bringing up Job, and Satan immediately counters by asking to test Job--in essence, to "sift him like wheat." With Job, Satan is confident that when Job is sifted, he will turn out to be all trash and no wheat, and I get the feeling that Satan is trying the exact same thing with Peter.

"But," Jesus says, "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." First part? Awesome. Second part? Not so awesome. I imagine Peter frowning at the initial piece of news, beginning to smile, then frowning again as the last line sinks in. When I have turned again? Is Jesus implying...

Yes, he is. And Peter recognizes this, which is why he immediately affirms his loyalty to Jesus. "Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death." I will not turn, Lord. I would die before that happens. And Peter genuinely believes this. Imagine his distress when, instead of smiling and patting him on the shoulder, Jesus sadly shakes his head and says "I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day until you deny three times that you know me." And then, without another word, Jesus turns and addresses the disciples as a whole, as if the previous exchange had not even occurred. And Peter is left to wonder what Jesus means, and he begins to be afraid.

This whole exchange is just incredibly interesting. Why Peter? Why has Satan demanded dominion over Peter specifically? Because Peter is the leader of the disciples. Always named first when the disciples are listed. Who dared to walk on water towards Jesus. Who named Jesus as the Christ, was given a new name by Jesus himself. Because Satan thinks (or hopes, at least) that if he can get Peter to break, demonstrate that there is no wheat, nothing solid, to Peter, than the other disciples will crumble as well. Jesus also acknowledges Peter's importance to the other disciples, telling him "when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." And he will turn away. We know that, Jesus knows that, and Satan knows it as well. But he will also return and do as Jesus tells him. In a nutshell, that's the story of Peter's life. Turn and return. Fall away and come back. Always returning, always coming back. Because he really does love Jesus.

This post was written in 2011. And in 2014, I published my very own book, Simon, Who Is Called Peter. It's a First-Person narration, meaning it gets you inside the head of Jesus' most notorious disciple. However, it's also extensively footnoted, referencing dozens of commentaries and scholarly works on the life of Peter. CLint Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology, calls it "an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed," and Darian Lockett, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, describes it as "a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament." If that sounds like something you'd like to read, check it out!

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