“Simon, Simon, look! Satan has asserted the right to sift you all like wheat. However, I have prayed for you that your faith won’t fail. When you have returned, strengthen your brothers and sisters.” Peter responded, “Lord, I’m ready to go with you, both to prison and to death!” Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster won’t crow today before you have denied three times that you know me.” -Luke 22:31-34
This story takes place in the Upper Room on the day we call Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” means “mandate” or “commitment”. In Luke, this mandate was to keep the Lord’s Supper. In John, the mandate was to wash feet. The mandate is to remember to re-member.
Around the table, as part of his farewell, Jesus had a conversation with his disciples. The conversation covered the life they had together, what was about to happen, and the pressures they were going to face. As the disciples engaged in the discussion, they revealed their self-seeking quest for status, which brought about betrayal and denial.
Jesus offered an assurance of comfort, guidance, and strength as he instructed his disciples in ways to address the squabbles and temptations of their time.
Sift You Like Wheat
In this story, we get this strange reference to Satan. “Simon, Simon, look! Satan has asserted the right to sift you all like wheat…” Jesus predicts that they all will fall away. Peter objects. He says he will not fall away. Luke uses this story to place the problem of unfaithful disciples in a larger context. The community falls apart after the shattering experience of the crucifixion. Luke sees this as a test.
In the Hebrew, the word “sift” means to test. It is an image which comes from the prophet Amos, “…to sift like wheat.” In Jewish Literature, Satan is one of the angels in the council of heaven.
The word “Satan” means “adversary.” It refers to “one who is the devil’s advocate” or “one who raises an objection.” It is also used to refer to “one who calls for a test” or “brings about the opposition.” Luke uses this image as an assault by the ultimate power of evil on the emerging kingdom of God.
Job & Sifting Wheat
This image comes from The Book of Job. It is here that we get an example of this understanding of Satan. Job believed in God. He was a good and righteous man in his living.
God in the council of heaven was bragging on Job. “My servant Job is a good and righteous man.” The Adversary, Satan, raised his hand and said, “Of course he is good because you blessed him. Anyone who has what he has can afford to be good.”
God said, “He would be good for nothing, even if his life were a disaster.”
Satan replied, “I don’t think so.”
God said, “All right. You can sift him like wheat, but not to kill him.”
From this story, we see that Job went through terrible experiences. He lost all his possessions, his family, and all he held to be important. His friends questioned his faithfulness to God. But, according to the story, he stayed in there with his trust in God. In the end, even though he had been “sifted like wheat,” tested, and challenged, he remained faithful to God.
Jesus Is Praying For You
So, here in Luke, Satan has permission to sift the disciples like wheat. It is like the adversary is looking out over humanity and thinks, “If I am going to get hold of this bunch, now is the time. With the death of Jesus, they will be without a leader. I’ll get them all.”
Around the table, in a group conversation,
Jesus says, “Satan has permission to put you to that test. I have been praying for you so that after you turn, after you repent, I want you to be leaders and strengthen the others.” Now, of course, Simon Peter does not think he needs to repent nor does he need prayer.
Jesus says, “Really? Before the rooster crows in the morning you will have said three times that you do not know me.”
From Luke’s perspective, when Jesus is tempted in chapter 4, he resists three temptations. Luke says, “Satan departed from him until an opportune time.” From that moment in chapter 4, Satan does not appear again until this story. (Luke 22:31).
The opportunity comes in two ways. The first, “He entered into Judas.” The second, Satan has asserted the right to sift Simon Peter like wheat. Satan got Judas and he almost got Simon Peter.
The contest is over Simon Peter’s loyalty. One side is Satan with deceitfulness. On the other side is Jesus with the weapon of prayer. “I am praying for you.”
Simon Peter doesn’t think he needs Jesus’ prayer. “I’m ready! If it’s prison, Yes. If it is death, Yes.”
Jesus said, “Simon, you are not ready.”
Now, we know what happened. Simon Peter stumbled.
When asked at the trial “Do you know Jesus?” He answered “No.” “Aren’t you one of his followers?” He answered, “No.” “You sound like one of those Galileans.” And with an oath, he answered, “I never knew the man.”
Jesus said, “…I have prayed for you that your faith won’t fail. When you have returned, strengthen your brothers and sisters.”
Jesus prays for Peter, but Peter must do the turning. Here is the difference between Judas and Peter. Salvation is not only personal but for the whole Christian community. Jesus’ prayer was answered, Peter did “turn back” and did become the leading figure in regathering the disciples after Easter to continue Jesus’ mission.
Simon Peter repented. He came back. Simon Peter became a leader. He strengthened others. St. Peter is connected to just about everything Christian. Not because he did not fail, but because he turned, he repented. Jesus’ prayer was answered.
You Have to Wonder
I wonder if Judas had repented could he have expected the same thing? Judas became the judge and jury over his own life. He did not give himself or the community the opportunity to turn back to Jesus.
What does prayer have to do with it? As Jesus prayed for those who crucified him, so he prays for his followers.
Paul says the Holy Spirit prays for us. John says Jesus prays for us. There nothing greater in all the world than to know that every hour of every day someone is praying for you and for me.
It is true. No matter what your situation or circumstance. No matter what the test or challenge. The time has come to turn and strengthen others. Jesus is praying for you!