August 4, 2011 - Memorial of Saint John Mary Vianney, priest

Today's Readings

The readings today both feature a mistake made by someone close to God. In both cases the mistake seems to us so minor that it is not even clear what exactly the problem is, but God reacts very strongly in both cases. Moses’ mistake might have been the words he spoke or the fact that he hit the rock twice when he should have hit it once or both of these things. Moses’ punishment was that he was never able to enter the Promised Land. Peter’s mistake was rebuking Jesus, but his rebuke sounds more like pleading with Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” For this statement, surely said with tears, Peter was called “Satan” by Jesus.

God seems to be especially harsh to those closest to him. As St. Theresa of Avila once said to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few.” We expect, thinking in worldly terms, that God would treat us who try to follow him better than those who do not, yet often the opposite is true: those who follow God suffer while people who ignore God have it easy. The standard that God sets for those close to him is higher than for those far away. If someone other than Peter had expressed such a desire that Jesus would not die, it might have been looked on favorably. If one of the other Israelites had so much faith that they struck a rock and expected water to come out, God might have overlooked that they struck the rock twice.

God wants us all to be perfect, and that is a very high standard. We would be crushed under failure if we had to begin there. Instead, God holds a lower standard for each of us, one that is just slightly out of our reach. As we progress in the spiritual life, we will find that God’s standard is always just a little higher than where we are: never more than we can do but more than we are currently doing. God is perfect, and he wants us to be with him. Through his ever higher standards, he is leading us to himself.