An Advent Journey: Stop, Look, Listen – Day 14

“‘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.’

But he replied, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’

Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’

Then Jesus asked them, ‘When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’

‘Nothing,’ they answered.

He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.’

The disciples said, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords.’

‘That is enough,’ he replied.” — Luke 22:31-38, TNIV

Do you find the juxtaposition of these pictures with this text a little bit jarring? Good. It was meant to be. The pictures were taken in one of my favorite places on the planet, Jacob Maarse Florists in Pasadena CA. Many years ago, I made weekly pilgrimages to this place, to watch the designers at work, to soak in the creative beauty everywhere I looked. I was quiet, I always bought something small, but I was there for a reason — I was looking to learn. 

About a year later, our eldest daughter announced her engagement and I started a small floral business, working out of my home for her wedding — and many others that followed over the next seven years. I closed the business after our second daughter got married, just as I was completing my studies in seminary. I worked weddings and parties almost all the way through school.

Still today, any chance I get, I stop by that beautiful warehouse/shop and just drink in the beauty. I have never found another place to match it, and Christmas is the very best time to take a stroll with wide-eyed wonder. 

But here before us today on an Advent Saturday, we have this intriguing passage from Luke 22. Right in the middle of all the beauty and sparkle and tiny white lights and soothing music, we find these difficult words. 

And here is what stood out and made me pay attention today: I have read the Passion Narrative in all four gospels multiple times. Multiple times. But this is the first time that this particular conversation has jumped out at me. The ‘sifting like wheat’ I remember. The ‘sell your cloak and buy a sword??‘ NO memory of this whatsoever. 

It is startling, out of character, even frightening to read these words coming out of the mouth of Jesus. Count your weapons? Build your armory? It doesn’t fit – it is terribly jarring and off-putting. 

And I have a hunch that is exactly what Jesus aimed to do with those words, to startle his friends. To shake them up, to rattle their cages and try to help them see what was coming. Because thus far in the story, they have not been particularly tuned in to what Jesus tells them is going to happen. They are denser than wood in so much of the gospel narrative. 

And yet. And yet. . . Jesus has a word of encouragement, a personal word of encouragement for Simon Peter up there at the beginning of this dialogue. Even in the midst of warning him about the spectacular nature of Simon’s upcoming failure-to-follow, Jesus says these sweet words: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Insert your own name in those two sentences and maybe substitute ‘sisters’ or ‘friends’ for ‘brothers.’ Now read it aloud, more than once, and listen carefully. Because scripture tells us that Jesus does exactly this — he prays for us, just like he prayed for Simon Peter.

Isn’t that amazing?

Thank you, Jesus, for your prayers on our behalf. Thank you for believing in us when we can’t believe in ourselves or when we believe more of ourselves than is likely to ever be true! Thank you for shaking us up once in a while, for startling us out of our lethargy, for reminding us that this life we lead with you — it’s not easy, nor was it promised to be. It’s rich and rewarding and satisfying — but it’s not easy. Help us to remember that, to have patience with ourselves and with others, and with you, and to trust that you are doing for us what you did for Simon — praying us home. Thank you.

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