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BEFORE THE CROSS | What do our lives show that we want?

Like St. Peter, we are all a mixed bag of actions, thoughts and desires

We hear this week about how Moses sent 12 men to scout out the Promised Land. The scouts returned with bad news: the land was rich in potential, but was occupied by huge people in well-fortified cities. The general consensus was that Israel couldn’t enter.

One scout (Caleb) advised the people to trust in God, but they refused. Instead, they lamented: “we should just die here in the desert!” God gave them what they asked for. His judgment was this: “I will do just what I have heard you say.” They spent the next 40 years wandering in the desert. No one over the age of 20 — that is, nobody with decision-making power in the community — was allowed to enter the Promised Land. They all died in the desert.

We also hear this week about a Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus, seeing her faith, granted the healing. His judgment was stated in exactly the same terms: “Let it be done for you as you wish.”

What if that’s how God’s final judgment works? What if He gives us what our lives — our words and deeds, how we spend our time and energy — show that we want? When we stand before Him, He either says “I’m delighted to give this to you” or He says “I’m so sorry, if this is what you want, you can have it — for eternity.”

I’m not suggesting that’s exactly how God’s judgment works. There’s mercy, too! But it’s fruitful for us to ponder: What do our lives show that we want?

Of course, most of us are a mixed bag. We want many things, and contradictory things. We’re both generous and selfish, self-giving and self-centered.

So it’s a good thing that we also read about St. Peter this week, because he was a mixed bag, too.

When Jesus asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered: “You are the Christ.” He got that spectacularly right. And he was commissioned as the rock of the Church because of it.

But that didn’t mean he got everything right. In the very next lines, when Jesus wants to take the disciples deeper and starts to talk about the cross, Peter gets things spectacularly wrong. Jesus rebukes him, and even calls him “Satan.”

That’s the Peter who says he’s willing to die with Jesus, then turns around and denies him three times. It sounds a lot like each of us.

But Peter hung in there. He let Jesus purify him until, in the end, what he wanted most deeply was to follow Christ. And it was done for him as he wished: he was crucified, and taken to heaven.

In the end, maybe that’s the key lesson for us. Like Peter, each of us is a mixed bag of wants, an interplay of light and darkness. Like Peter, Jesus is willing to meet us where we are and purify our desires. The question is whether, like Peter, we’ll consent to the purifying process.

So, what do you want? As C.S. Lewis once said, “In the end there are only two kinds of people: those who say to God ‘thy will be done’ and those to whom God says ‘thy will be done.’”

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