I was working with a 1st-grade girl with her bucket of class work in an autism unit. The child is verbal and quite the drama queen. She didn’t have to tell me she could care less about the bucket and its contents. In between her crying spells, we worked on addition and subtraction. Any time she got a problem wrong and I informed her of that, her head would plop down on the table and she’d shed more tears. Finally, she was solving problems right and left without her sobbing commercials. After finishing, she was rewarded with jump time on the mini-trampoline,.
I wholeheartedly empathized with her. Failure feels like a stab in the heart. If someone else points out something I did wrong or failed to do, it is an uppercut to the heart since I am oversensitive to criticism. I do admit, though, failure is an effective teacher if I will go along with its instruction. After all, it was the answers I got wrong on a test I remembered most; not the ones I didn’t.
There’s a character in the Bible whose failures were exposed as well as his successes. He is perhaps the most well-known of the twelve disciples. He was not only one of the twelve disciples, but also would later become the leader of the early church. However, despite his amazing successes, he was not immune to failure. His most famous failure was when he struck out three times in a short matter of time. I would imagine it was the darkest moment in his life.
Jesus warned His disciples before he was betrayed and arrested in Luke chapter 26, verse 31: “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “ ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ Peter spoke up as he usually did. He wasn’t one to sit quietly in a corner. He replied empathetically that even if all fall away on account of Jesus, he NEVER would. The word “never” is a dangerous word for us to use and should only be uttered with the utmost caution. I’ve had to eat my words of what I said I’d NEVER do.
Jesus knew Peter would not live up to his proclamation of never. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” Peter wasn’t one to doubt the Lord’s word, but this time, the Lord was predicting what he, Peter, would do and it was inconceivable to Peter. He declared to Jesus again, “Even if I have to die with you, I will NEVER disown you.”
After Jesus was arrested and taken to the high priest, Peter followed at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to witness the outcome. While sitting out in the courtyard, a servant girl came up to Peter and stated, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee”. Peter stated he didn’t know what the girl was talking about. This was strike one.
Peter went out to the gateway where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Peter denied it once again with an oath swearing he did not know the man. This was the second strike.
Then, shortly thereafter, a group came up to Peter. They stated, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Peter reacted even more strongly by calling down curses, swearing to those in earshot, “I don’t know the man!” This was the third strike.
I can’t imagine the pain that must have pierced Peter’s heart when he heard the sound of the rooster crowing after his third strike. Just as Jesus predicted he would deny Him, the rooster crowed. Three times Peter had denied knowing the Son of God. He went outside and wept bitterly. I would imagine he wept buckets of tears. I don’t think there are words to describe the depth of Peter’s guilt.
Another disciple, Judas, had earlier betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He gave Jesus a kiss which was the sign to the conspirators that this was the man they wanted. A fault of Judas was greed; however, upon receiving the reward, he tossed all the pieces of shiny silver to the ground. The silver had become an eyesore; it wasn’t as valuable to him as it was before he betrayed Jesus. He must have felt some guilt because he didn’t take the silver and run. Instead of learning a lesson from his failure, he took his life. He chose to die instead of getting up after his fall.
One disciple betrayed Him; the other denied Him near the end of His time on earth. Neither disciple could relive it or change what either had done. Judas gave in to his failure and took his life. Peter took a different option. He got up the next day and the day after, etc.
Peter crossed paths with Jesus after Jesus arose from the grave. He told Peter not once, not twice, but three times to feed the flock. Jesus repeating it three times hurt Peter. Peter responded by saying he loved Jesus instead of blaming someone else for his three strikes.
Jesus could have told Peter “three strikes, you’re out.” He could have given up on Peter for denying him in His dark hours. But instead, He showed forgiveness and mercy to Peter. That’s a lesson in itself for us. Jesus’s forgiveness of Peter’s denials is another example to us to do the same unto others.
Just a thought. Perhaps Peter’s colossal failure helped him with humility. Peter would go on to feed the flock; all of whom had their own history of failures. Peter knew what it was to fail miserably, he knew the enormous pain of guilt, and he knew about being given another chance.
Failure is a fine teacher as well as having a humbling effect. I can learn from both failure and success. Failure is really only terminal when one falls down and doesn’t try to get back up and try again. I’d rather take Peter’s route than the one Judas took.