The Crumbling House
"Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected .... And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan!
September 10, 2021, Words By: Joel Aguilar, Image By: Elias Schupmann
When I was growing up, my family struggled economically, but we had “middle class” values. That is to say that we struggled to live within our means. And yet, we imitated the desires of others in our extended family and community.
My mom’s great desire was home ownership. For her, it was about something more than having a place to live; it was a symbol of prestige and a measure of success — it was an identity on which society had placed great value.
So, at the first opportunity to build a house, my mother persuaded my father to make a down payment. Sadly, after a few months of not hearing back from the construction company, my parents realized that they, along with a hundred other families, had been scammed. The money was gone, and they had no house to show for it.
But that hardship didn’t deter my parents’ desire. After years of saving up again, they were able to make another down payment in a different development. And this time, it worked!
After construction was complete, our family of five had our very own, and very small, house. In total, it measured 430 square feet. And it was far away from our daily lives in the city, anywhere from 40 minutes to 3 hours of commute depending on the time of day. But it was a house. It was another step toward being seen by society as “making it.” And my parents believed it would make us happy.
But what I most remember is how horrible the move was. We made ten round trips over the course of a couple days to transport all of our belongings. On the last ride out of town, my brothers and I were in the bed of a pickup truck, holding some boxes. It was raining really hard and then turned to hail. We had nothing but a piece of nylon to protect ourselves with. We held our dog tightly and cried with him all the way to the new house. The object of my parent’s desire was pulling our entire family away from all the things we loved and knew in our community.
The house, the house, the house! We finally had it, and yet the deeper impulse behind the desire remained elusive. After a few months of living crammed together, we began expanding our home’s footprint. It wasn’t just going to be sufficient, it was going to be the biggest house in the whole development. The yardstick for our desire, our success, had moved.
Symbolically, this entire process occurred as my family was crumbling to pieces. My parents’ marriage was in shambles, and the constant imitation of consumeristic desires continued to end in disappointment, rivalry, and unhappiness. We never had enough to satiate the hunger of our misplaced desire.
As our family fell apart, the house started to fall apart. The weaker we got as a family unit, the more our house deteriorated. The house became a reflection of our lives. After my parents separated, all the renovations stopped, but the object of misplaced desire still stands today, half-built, half falling apart, just like any other misplaced desire we believe will fulfill us in life.
For many years, I carried the guilt and pain of my family’s dysfunction and abuse. But as I read this week’s lectionary, I can’t help but think that Jesus’ words to Peter, “Get behind me Satan … you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns,” are an invitation to let go of our idols, the models of our misplaced desires.
Whether it’s power, wealth, or prestige, or whatever else we look to for our identity, Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow him. It’s an invitation to let go of our idols, the objects and models of our misplaced desires, and instead to find our identity in his love and forgiveness. The more we do, the more we inherit his life-giving desires of relationship, abundance, and peacemaking. And the easier it becomes to let go of the houses that we want to keep expanding but that keep destroying us.
Dwelling Among Us
This week, I want to invite you to think about the things you desire the most.
How did you come to desire those things? Who did you see had those things first? How do those things hinder you from following Jesus?