September 17, 2006
Nobody wants to fail. None of us tries to make mistakes. All of us are embarrassed when we mess up. But mess up we do. Failing is a part of living, and all of us can fail in a variety of ways. We can fail in our relationships: hurting our marriage, our children, our friends. We can fail in our jobs, taking on more than we can handle, cutting corners that lead to disaster, betraying the trust that others place in us. We can fail ourselves: giving in to apathy and self-pity, nurturing a private selfishness, trading in on our good name.
There are many ways to fail. The question is not whether we will make a mistake, but how we will respond when we do. Here is where the experience of Peter can help us. In today’s gospel, among the villages of Caesarea Philippi, Peter makes a serious mistake. Buoyed up with pride at his ability to realize that Jesus is the Messiah, he pushes off from that shaky foundation and challenges Jesus. He corrects the Lord, when Jesus announces his upcoming passion and death. Peter oversteps his bounds, reveals his ignorance, and betrays the trust that Jesus had placed in him. Jesus reacts strongly, pushing Peter aside and calling him Satan. This failure of Peter foreshadows an even greater failure, when, during the passion, Peter three times denies Christ. There is no doubt that Peter was a good person, that Peter had great intentions and a big heart. But there is also no doubt that Peter made big mistakes. Peter is like us, and his experience in today’s gospel points to two truths which we need to remember when we fail.
The first truth is this: God does not reject us when we fail. Peter’s mistakes may have surprised and discouraged Peter, but they did not surprise or discourage God. God knew who Peter would be from the moment of creation. Nevertheless, God chose to create Peter and called him to lead the church. God relates in the same way to us. Our mistakes do not surprise God. God loves us in spite of them. No matter what we have done, God still calls us to be daughters and sons, agents of Christ’s Kingdom. God’s love for us is constant. It is everlasting.
The second truth is this: when we fail, we are called to face our mistake and move on. Jesus says in today’s gospel, “Those who wish to be my disciples must take up their cross and follow me.” Normally when we think of a cross, we image it as some burden which life places on our shoulders. But crosses can also be burdens we place on our own shoulders. Our mistakes and failures are our crosses. What are we to do with them? We are not supposed to deny them or excuse them. We are not are not called to put them down and bury them; we are called to take them up and carry them. We carry our failures as crosses and move forward with the help of Christ.
It is not a question of whether we will make mistakes but how we shall respond when we do. Peter shows us the way. I am sure he never forgot those foolish words he spoke at Caesarea Philippi or Christ’s stinging rebuke. I know he always remembered the three times that he denied Christ before the cock crowed. But he took up those mistakes and moved forward as a disciple. We can do the same. No matter what we have done, we can take up our failures and follow after Christ. We need not fear that those mistakes will crush us, because God never stops loving us, and the love of God is the most powerful force in creation.
Not only does God’s love allow us to take up the cross of our failure and move forward; God’s love can make that cross light.