Today’s first scripture for Mass is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Exodus.
The Book of Exodus describes the mighty deeds of the God of the Israelites, who acts in extraordinary ways so as to liberate the Israelites from the tyranny of false gods. These false gods have imprisoned and enslaved the Israelites. The God of the Israelites defeats the false gods and frees the people to return to their ancestral homeland.
One would think that the Israelites, having witnessed for themselves the power of God and the defeat of the false gods, that they would never again give in to the temptation to worship and serve false gods, but the tendency to worship and serve false gods is intractable in the human condition, and the Israelites succumb.
The Book of Exodus describes that God is willing to allow the Israelites to punish themselves with the consequences of idolatry, but Moses intervenes, and asks the Lord to be merciful, and God, who in the Bible proves himself to be the great giver of second chances, acts yet again to deliver the Israelites from the power of false gods.
This lesson from the Book of Exodus is not meant to be limited to being a tale from long ago, but it is a commentary on our own circumstances, our own proclivities, our own choices. We have been delivered, like the Israelites, from the enslavement to false gods, this is what Christ does for us. Our gods are (perhaps) not mythological beings, but wealth, pleasure, power and honors. But being freed, we still will be tempted to worship and serve them. And if we do, we risk grave consequences.
False gods insinuate themselves into our lives, distracting us with promises of an immediate benefit from the reality of long term consequences. They promise us prosperity, freedom, success and enlightenment, while all the setting us up for disaster. Christ offers to save us from the power of false gods, but will we accept his offer or will we refuse. We all must decide.
As Lent moves ever closer to the great observances of Holy Week, extended excerpts from the Gospel of John are presented at Mass.
These excerpts immerse us in a great conflict, a conflict between Christ and those who oppose him.
From these texts in the Gospel of John we learn that opposition to Christ is not because of his politics, or because of his advocacy on behalf of the poor, but because he makes the extraordinary claim that he is God and his actions lend credence to his claim.
The great mystery of Christ’s revelation is that he is God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. Most of Christ’s opponents would likely have settled for less that God, been content with the prophet or politician or social activist, after all, these realities can be managed and controlled by worldly elites. But that Christ revealed himself as God upset worldly elites as it meant that if they accepted his claim as true, they would have to surrender their power to him and live as his servants. This they would not do. They were willing to pay lip service to God’s power as long as it didn’t threaten their privileges and they could use it to their benefit, but when God came to them in Christ face to face and insisted that their will was not his will, they decided to not only oppose him, but to destroy him.
The terrifying drama of an attempt by the worldly to destroy God is presented to us with great intensity during Holy Week. Holy Week displays how clinging to the prerogatives of worldliness, making wealth, pleasure, power and honors our gods, delivers us into the hands of dark and dangerous powers. God in Christ will himself descend into the darkness that we bring down upon ourselves so as to save us. This is the great revelation of the cross.
God in Christ reveals that he will counter our opposition and idolatry with his will to love and forgive us. He meets our resistance with his mercy. His mercy is what we need, but is it what we want? In this regard, we must all make a decision.