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Exodus 32:7-14 ; John 5:31-47

“They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it.” (Exodus 32: 8)

Who has my back?  Who speaks for me?  Jesus came under attack by leaders of the Jewish community.  His scruffy followers were no match for the learned and powerful.  Later, when he is arrested, Jesus will remain silent.  Here he mounts a punchy defense and cites the highest authorities to testify on his behalf: God, Scripture, healing works.  Who needs human testimony with the Almighty on my side?  As backup, Jesus cites John the Baptizer and Moses, those who trod the desert highway that led to his saving mission. Jesus’s call comes from above.  This assured defense further enflamed his enemies.  Nothing irritates the powerful like being omitted from the benefactors list.

It is said that persons are known by the company they keep.  Good friends witness to our strengths and help us to face our weakness.  Yet connections also ensnare us.  Guilt comes through association.  In his Confessions, Augustine pondered why as a youth he stole pears and flung them to the pigs.  Was evil so enticing?  With relief he finally realized, “I am altogether certain that I would not have done it alone.”  Being wild together swept them into trouble.  We are made for love but love can go wrong.

Moses climbed the mountain to be with God.  In his absence confusion overtook the people. After years of wandering, their identity frayed: “Who’s to blame for this endless trek?  Isn’t slavery better than starving in the desert?  Gold is pleasing to the eye.  Let’s build a golden image to please God.  We honor God with gold and God will lead us from this wilderness.”  Surely some demurred but it is not easy to resist a fired up crowd.  Faced with madness, we retreat into silence.

Idols don’t captivate just ancient people.  We too get ensnared by shiny things.  John Kavanaugh, S.J., wrote about the idols of consumer society: 

Things are not woundable.  They do not bleed or suffer or die.  And the culture that enthrones things, products, objects as its most cherished realities is ultimately a culture in flight from the vulnerability of the human person.

Idols bring disorder.  What matters more than prayer, simplicity, and community is the drive to produce, compete, and consume.  Society should be directed at persons and the gifts of creation.  The idol cons us: it promises salvation but delivers emptiness and violence.  Once money defines reality, creatures get tossed aside.

God had had enough of this stiff-necked people.  But Moses persisted.  He begged for mercy and God listened.  “Please take another look.  Don’t give up on us.  Something worth more than gold is here.”

By Jeanne Schuler

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