Reflection for Thursday, March 30, 2006: 4th week in Lent.

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Burke-Sullivan, Eileen
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One of the purposes of the Lenten season in the Church year is to spend time and energy discovering to whom or to what we pay out our lives and our loyalty (or in essence who or what we worship). Very often we think we are committed in one direction (the living God) only to find that something or someone has usurped that loyalty and that in fact we are living out of other commitments, not so consciously thought about or intended.||It would appear from the way the story is told in the first reading from Exodus, that the Israelites in the desert knew what they were doing in gathering up their jewelry and coins and melting them to make a golden image of strength and fecundity to worship. What may not seem obvious to us, who don't ordinarily burn incense or dance ritual dances to statues that we can be similarly trapped by the needs and passions that drove these recently released slaves to something so seemingly absurd to us. But what the Israelites were doing, after all was aligning themselves with _ or attaching themselves to - a god (power) that would source them. Is it not the case today that prowess, material wealth and sexual allure are still values that many folks spend their material resources and physical energy seeking to attain (i.e. in a more modern form of idolatry). It seems to me that this story of constructing a golden calf to worship can be seen as the direct analogy to what we do when we pour all our material goods, time, talent, intellectual strength and emotional energy into attaching ourselves to the "bull" of the herd _ that is the strongest, most dominant, most seductive or coercive power around. Whether we do that personally or attach ourselves to a crowd seeking to do it together makes little difference in the long run. Being number one is the American dream in many cases, whether we symbolize it with awards, accomplishments, athletic prowess, or material wealth _ or even whether we do it by being religious bullies (my theology is more pure and absolutely orthodox than yours) we are still worshipping a "golden calf" rather than worshipping the living God. One of the great tragedies of human history is that we humans can take any good of creation and turn it into self worship rather than the worship of God.|| The Gospel has a somewhat similar theme _ but seen from a different lens. In the fifth chapter, the author of John's Gospel is casting Jesus into a kind of trial with the religious authorities of his day. Jesus is accused of violating the (religious and civil) law by healing a man on the Sabbath. Jesus, of course, has interpreted the Law from his personal relationship with the Father, so the fact is that his interpretation is more authentic. His point in defending himself is to show the religious leaders that their rendering of the law is based on their own personal needs for power and control, not on their loving relationship with the Father or even a loving relationship with the living tradition (made evident in the fact that Moses would condemn them for not really following the Law he delivered). Jesus challenges the way they interpret scripture because they can't see beyond themselves. They are in fact using their interpretation of the law as a substitute for God and God's real desire _ or, in the analogy of the first reading, as a golden calf to worship. ||Jesus makes the case that even so-called "good" religious people have to take stock of our various ways of giving our allegiance because we may have made anything into a substitute for God. It is by the fruits that such false worship will be discovered _ so our attention ought to be on the outcomes of our energy. Do we bring healing, peace, joy, compassion, courage, strength and hope where we go and where we take stands? Or is the community divided, bitter, backbiting, brokenhearted and discouraged when we have been around?||God can raise up other servants, but he would rather redeem the servants he has now; the invitation of this Lenten season is to try to cooperate with God's hope for us.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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