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One thing I especially love about the gospels is how Jesus and his followers are portrayed as normal everyday people. No royalty there (not in earthly terms, anyway), and not even any trained ministers among them. Jesus was a carpenter from a poor hick town and his followers came from the lowly ranks of fishermen, tax collectors, administrators, and even party girls. And, being normal everyday people, they all occasionally screwed up (sometimes royally), and we get to read about it and learn from it.
This is a huge blessing for us and a further testimony to God’s love for us, how we can read about the everyday ‘normalness’ of Jesus and his early followers. We can screw up, just like they occasionally did, and God won’t give up on us. Just as we keep forgiving people (seventy-times-seven times, if necessary), God keeps forgiving us. We fall down; he picks us up. And he’ll keep on doing that as long as we’re sincere in wanting to follow Jesus.
The best-known royal screw-up is, of course, Peter denying knowing Jesus three times. Think about it – Jesus spells out to Peter that he’ll betray him three times before the cock crows (meaning, within less than a day), but Peter swears he’d never betray Jesus and he’d even die for him if necessary. All of the disciples swear the same thing. Let me repeat that – Jesus tells Peter precisely when and precisely how he’s going to screw up, but Peter refuses to see it as a possibility. And then, within only a few short hours, Peter does exactly what Jesus says he’d do.
This “warts and all” approach is one of the main things I love about the gospels. The information about Peter was included not to denigrate him – no, not at all. Rather, the information was included to show us that we’re just like Peter and Peter’s just like us, especially when we screw up. And, just like Peter, we too can get another chance, if we sincerely love God and sincerely want to follow Jesus.
I wonder how many of us reading (and writing) this can imagine being in Peter’s shoes. I’m guessing that most of us who call ourselves born-again followers of Jesus have, like Peter, sworn in our hearts that we’ll do anything and everything to follow Jesus, anything and everything to do God’s will.
I also imagine that we’ve been tested on this already and have come up far, far, far short of what we’d envisioned for ourselves.
But take heart, you worms! As my grandmother used to say: “Mistakes keep you humble.”
Without humbling ourselves before God (meaning, without handing our one and only true possession over to God, day in and day out [meaning, without handing our will over to him, day in and day out]), we won’t be able to do God’s will and we won’t be able to get to heaven.
That’s a spiritual fact.
Peter screwed up royally, we occasionally screw up royally, even Jesus made the odd mistake, like when he assumed, when he was 13 years old, that he was old enough to start his ministry, or when he tried to heal a blind man and had to do a second round of healing to get it right.
Jesus wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t a sinner, but he wasn’t perfect. His followers aren’t perfect, either. Only God is perfect. We strive for perfection (Jesus says “be ye perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect”) but we’re not expected to achieve it. When we fall short and fall down, God will pick us up, pat or spank us on the bum, and then set us back on the path we need to go.
After his resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Peter said yes, of course, he loved him, and even got a little impatient with Jesus for asking him the same question over and over again. People interpret Jesus’ three questions about loving him as being the resolution of the three times that Peter denied knowing Jesus (and I agree with this interpretation), but I also see Jesus’ repetition of the same question as being a way to emphasize a profoundly important point – that in living your life, you occasionally screw up and do the exact thing that you swear you’ll never do. But that doesn’t mean you don’t get another chance, as long as your heart is in the right place, and as long as you still love God and still want to follow Jesus.
The gospels show us how the early disciples lived their lives while they were here on Earth. We can see ourselves in their triumphs and confusion and weak faith and occasional royal screw-ups. But we can also see ourselves in how they kept going and how they were rewarded for their perseverance by a steadily increasing faith and an ever-closer relationship with God and Jesus.
You’re going to make mistakes – that’s for sure.
Just don’t let your mistakes unmake you.