Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Chronicles, one of the historical books of the Bible. The Book of Chronicles, along with the Books of Samuel and Kings, detail the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David. The Kingdom of David was the means that God used to unite the disparate tribes of the Israelites into one people, but human pride and folly subverted God’s purpose almost from the beginning of the Kingdom.
Most of the rulers of the Israelites were wicked and brought misery to the people. The Books of Chronicles, Kings and Samuel are brutally honest about the failures of the men and women who ruled the Israelites. The Bible has a keen sense of the tendency of all political arrangements, causes and ideologies towards corruption. Politics can be helpful, but politics cannot save us from our sins, and more often than not, we have to be delivered from the political and ideological systems that we create.
The wickedness of the Israelite rulers was manifested in idolatry, which means the worship of false gods. These false gods were representations of the desires, of not only the Israelite rulers, but also the Israelites themselves, for wealth, pleasure, power and honor. So consuming was the desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors, that the elites of Israel were willing to sacrifice almost anything to attain them- even their relationship with the one, true God.
Today’s scripture makes it very clear that idolatry is not without consequences- in the case of the Israelite rulers it led to violence and murder.
It was the idolization of wealth, pleasure, power and honors that undermined and ultimately led to the destruction of the Kingdom of David. There was no political remedy to the soul sickness of the Israelites. Deliverance would only come when the Israelites, betrayed by the false gods that they worshipped, repented, and returned to the one, true God that they had rejected. As it was then, so it is now…
The effects of idolatry on our own lives may not be as dramatic as what is described today in the Book of Chronicles, but there will be consequences. Wealth, pleasure, power and honors may not be our idols, but false gods afflict us all. Perhaps our idols are our fears, our desire to be right or to have things our way. Whatever our idols are, nothing good will ever come from them and it is best that we turn away from them and turn back to God.
Christ the Lord insists today is his Gospel that there is no negotiating or equivocation possible when it comes to idolatry. We cannot serve two masters. We either belong to Christ or to someone or something else. The distinction is that stark and demanding.
Belonging to Christ entails a rigorous test of our sincerity, a willingness to detach ourselves from those things that are contrary to his will for our lives. Disciples will often times refuse to choose those things that the world considers to be necessary and important. Further, we cannot be so pre-occupied, as worldly people tend to be, with personal comfort and security. Disciples must be ready for mission and the mission will demand a willingness to endure hardships, make sacrifices and take risks.
Christ may not ask us for the kinds of sacrifices or to endure the kinds of risks and hardships that characterize the lives of so many of the Church’s saints, but he will ask something of us for the sake of the Church’s mission. Everything that we surrender to Christ he returns to us, transformed and redeemed. Nothing of what we give to Christ is ever lost.