Golden Calves – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
We hear in Exodus today about the Israelites having cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it. The excerpt we have is preceded by an explanation of the context. Moses has gone up Mount Sinai to receive the two tablets of the Law.
The people down on the plains were uncomfortable with his long absence (forty days) and asked Aaron to make a god. Aaron makes the golden calf out of melted down jewellery and the people shout, Israel, here is your God who brought you here from Egypt. Aaron built an altar before the statue and the people sacrificed burnt offerings, ate and drink, engaged in pagan rituals, and had orgies.
The story of the golden calf is about idolatry, the worship of false gods. Many of us are obsessed with television viewing or internet use or streaming services or jewellery or gadgets or the perfect body or the accumulation of money or just about anything. How often do we bow down before our idols and fetishes, almost offering worship!
I remember living in community with a fellow Jesuit who would come into the TV room and bow down before the television, treating the television with the same reverence we might give to the Crucifix or tabernacle. He was jokingly making a point about our idol worship. We can turn our pets into idols. We can do the same thing with automobiles or clothing. Even certain items of food or drink can become an idol. None of us is immune to idol worship.
God’s invitation to us is to loosen our attachment to our false gods and return to God with all our being. We will probably always be attached to something, but we should strive for a right relationship with goods. They are provided to us for our use. In that regard, I like a principle stated by Saint Ignatius of Loyola:
The other things on the face of the earth are created for the human beings, to help them in the pursuit of the end for which they are created [the praise, reverence and service of God]. … We ought to use things to the extent they help us toward that end.
In other words, Ignatius is offering a helpful criterion for our relationship to all of the elements in our life that we can become a bit too attached to: Is this _______________ helpful? Does it contribute to the praise, reverence or service of God? I have found that this principle covers mundane things such as handouts and more serious things such as the purchase of a major item.
When I teach or give a talk, I usually say something such as this if I give a handout: If this handout is helpful to you, use it. If not, just use it as scrap paper. But that question is even more serious with the purchase of a major item. Does my purchase of a new smart phone help in any way with the praise, reverence or service of God?