Lent: Discerning the Golden Calves

March 31, 2022
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we are challenged to assess our true and deepest values.

Our first reading describes a moment when God and Moses are having a nice chat. Suddenly, God makes Moses aware of the fact that his people have gone haywire:

The LORD said to Moses,
“Go down at once to your people
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved.
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out,
‘This is your God, O Israel,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’

Exodus 32: 7-8

It might seem crazy to us that people would worship a metal statue. But let’s take a look at what that golden calf represents. The idol is a symbol of the Israelite community’s “economy”, what they really deem most important, what they really worship when they think God isn’t looking. When they look upon the idol’s golden reflection, they see themselves mirrored back the way they want to be – rich, powerful, and dominant.

In our society, those desires may not reside in a golden calf – but maybe in a shiny car, a flashy gemstone, a corner office, an elite club membership, an ivy league degree, etc. Does this mean that such things are necessarily wrong! Not really. It means that when these things become our gods, captivating our attention and worship, then we have really lost our soul.

When we begin to believe that such idols make us who we are,
we disconnect from God Who actually makes us who we are.

Further, we disconnect from the human community
which is meant to mirror God’s face to us.

As our Psalm reminds us:
Our fathers made a calf in Horeb
            and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
            for the image of a grass-eating bullock.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
            who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
            terrible things at the Red Sea.

Psalm 106:19-22

In our Gospel today, Jesus confronts a group of Pharisees and others who have their own sort of “golden calf”. They have turned their religion into a tool to gain power and dominate others. They are no longer open to God and to the message Jesus offers them. They see their fellow humans as “things” to be used for their own advancement:

But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form,
and you do not have his word remaining in you,
because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.
You search the Scriptures,
because you think you have eternal life through them;
even they testify on my behalf.
But you do not want to come to me to have life.

John 5:37-40

There are serious warnings in our readings today. Perhaps some of them might speak to us personally. And for certain, they speak to us as a society. May we hear God’s voice in whatever way we need to.


Poetry: The Golden Calf – by John Newton

When Israel heard the fiery law,
From Sinai's top proclaimed;
Their hearts seemed full of holy awe,
Their stubborn spirits tamed. 

Yet, as forgetting all they knew,
Ere forty days were past;
With blazing Sinai still in view,
A molten calf they cast. 

Yea, Aaron, God's anointed priest,
Who on the mount had been
He durst prepare the idol-beast,
And lead them on to sin. 

Lord, what is man! and what are we,
To recompense thee thus!
In their offence our own we see,
Their story points at us. 

From Sinai we have heard thee speak,
And from mount Calv'ry too;
And yet to idols oft we seek,
While thou art in our view. 

Some golden calf, or golden dream,
Some fancied creature-good,
Presumes to share the heart with him,
Who bought the whole with blood. 

Lord, save us from our golden calves,
Our sin with grief we own;
We would no more be thine by halves,
But live to thee alone.

Music: Song of the Golden Calf from the opera Faust by Gounod.

The aria is delivered by Mephistopheles who is associated with the Faust legend of an ambitious scholar, based on the historical Johann Georg Faust. In the legend, Faust makes a deal with the Devil at the price of his soul, Mephistopheles acting as the Devil’s agent.

The calf of gold is still standing!
One adulates his power,
One adulates his power,
From one end of the world to the other end!
To celebrate the infamous idol,
Kings and the people mixed together,
To the somber sound of golden coins,
They dance a wild round
Around his pedestal
Around his pedestal
And Satan leads the dance, etc, etc.

The calf of gold is the victor over the gods!
In its derisory (absurd) glory,
In its derisory (absurd) glory,
The abject monster insults heaven!
It contemplates, oh weird frenzy!
At his feet the human race,
Hurling itself about, iron in hand,
In blood and in the mire,
Where gleams the burning metal,
Where gleams the burning metal,
And Satan leads the dance,etc.

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