Peter’s denial of Jesus has always struck me as a tragic tale of betrayal of friendship and discipleship. Jesus warns Peter that it is coming, yet Peter boldly denies that denial is even within the realm of possibility (Luke 22:33).
Still, when Jesus is involved, tragic stories can turn to triumphs, and denial can give way to renewal. This too is what Jesus tells Peter before the fateful courtyard scene. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32).”
A lot is happening in this short statement. For the first time in a long time (at least as far as Luke tells the story), Jesus addresses Peter as “Simon.” Simon is also his name, of course. Jesus is the one who renames Simon, “Peter” in 6:14. Peter is a common name at the time, but it seems to serve as a nickname in this instance. It means rock, one who is solid and strong. From ch. 6 until this time in ch. 22, the readers only encounter the name, “Peter.” Then three times in this short exchange, Jesus addresses him as Simon. It no doubt grabs his attention like a parent including a middle name in addressing their kids, but there seems to be more. It serves as a reminder of who he was before Jesus and serves as a question: who will he be when this is all over?
And something else stands out. Jesus prays that his faith “will not fail,” but this is a telling intercession. Jesus informs Simon that he will deny three times even knowing Jesus. This suggests that the failure Jesus has in mind is not the denial or betrayal. It’s not the bigtime slip up or shortcoming or sin. It’s not that we would call those things a success, but they are not the failure Jesus has in mind. The failure Jesus is talking about is not in the fall. It is failure to let God lift you up again after the fall.
What’s more, Jesus has a mission for Peter that he will be uniquely situated to fulfill— “when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus believed in Peter and believed in his return. Furthermore, Peter wasn’t the only one Satan was trying to take down, and he wouldn’t be the only one who needed restoration. Failure isn’t the end of our story. Return alone isn’t the end of our story. Strengthening others who have also struggled and stumbled is the bigger picture. We all need that kind of strength these days.