by Cameron Daly
This reflection was taken from the Sunday Mass Readings of Mar. 8, 2015:
When I read about the golden calf incident in Exodus 32, I kind of have to wonder what was going through the Israelites’ minds when they “gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a God who will go before us; as for that man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him’” (v. 1). From there, I have to wonder what was going through Aaron’s mind when he actually agreed: “He received their offering, and fashioning it with a tool, made a molten calf. Then he cried out, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (v. 4).
These Israelites were the very witnesses of Israel’s exodus out of the slavery of Egypt brought about by the hand of God. Aaron himself was an instrument of some of the plagues had God sent against Egypt (cf. Exodus 7-9). They had already received God’s command by that time to have no gods besides Him; from there, even if they were questioning where the Lord had taken Moses, you would think that they could have come up with some better resolution to the issue than worshiping a golden calf–like maybe being patient and remaining faithful to the one, true God, Who had just liberated them from such a great oppression as Egyptian slavery.
Yet isn’t that what we do all the time? Our faith in God wavers–sometimes even without our realizing it–so we raise up things for ourselves, and regard them as being more important than Him. These things could be anything–hordes of money, exotic collections, elaborate estates, smartphones, favorite habits or places, perhaps even talents and abilities–but they all have three things in common: first, they are temporal, worldly things, which one day will no longer exist (or in the case of the last one, will at the very least be shown to be nothing next to the glory of God); second, they are not God; and third, unfortunately, we often have a tendency to hold them in higher esteem than God.
Obviously, we don’t literally bow down to these things and formally call them deities. “That would be ridiculous,” we say; “We worship God, not things.” Yet do we not proclaim the praises and joys of our possessions, so much more often than we ever do God? Do we not give them so much more attention and contemplation then we often would even consider giving to God? When do we ever spend more time offering prayers than we do spending money, or more time reading the Bible and other Christian literature than we do checking our phones and Facebook accounts?
Say some guy had his iPhone stolen from him, and it was some time before he was able to get another one. This greatly irritated him, and he brooded bitterly upon the wrong done against him. Why? Was the injustice done to him, by having his cell phone taken, of so much greater concern than the many injustices he’d committed against Jesus, Who was tortured and crucified for the guy because the guy fell short and could not make reparation on his own? Should the guy really be all that flustered with one thing being stolen from him, when his own hope of salvation relies upon Christ allowing His Blood to be stolen for the guy’s sake? Who is he to complain about injustices! Yet with which injustice is he more concerned?
“I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me” (Ex 20:2-3). That is the very first of God’s Commandments. Certainly, we disobey it much more subtly than did the Israelites with their golden calf, but we often disobey it nonetheless.
Lent is the perfect time to turn away from our idolatry. When we give up something important to us for Lent (smartphone, Facebook, etc.), we are showing God–and ourselves–that we love Him, the Creator, more than these created things of ours. When we make a sacrifice for Lent that isn’t necessarily giving something up, but doing something with the intention of making ourselves holier (saying the Rosary every day, going to Daily Mass, etc.), we are showing God–and ourselves–that we love Him, our Creator, more than ourselves, His creatures. We are showing that we are willing to make the effort to do what is necessary to change our lives for the better so as to become closer to Him. If we, creatures, place greater emphasis on anything than we do upon our own Creator, then we are by definition going against reason in our evaluation of beings; for without He Who Is, nothing else ever would be. Creation is good–God said so Himself many times throughout the Creation narrative–but the Creator is far greater.
“‘But,’ said Moses to God, ‘if I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what do I tell them?’ God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you” (Ex 3:13-14).
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be”–Jesus (Mt 6:19-21).