Summary: The problem with making an image of God is that WE are supposed to be in the image and likeness of God.
Thursday of the 4th Week in Lent 2018
Humans have, from the very beginning, resisted God’s will, even though that will is for our joy and sanctification. God wants us to be so much like Himself that we can be called His adopted children, even now. And He wants as perfect a union with us as is possible in the life to come. That’s what God wants, but over and over again humans have declared their desire for less.
Let’s be honest about what Exodus is teaching here: Aaron led an apostasy, a rebellion against God’s sovereignty. God was telling Moses that there should be not only no god before Him, but not even any graven images of Him. Meanwhile, Aaron was making a golden calf as an image of God, aided by the very people God had led out of Moses, His priestly people. The problem with making an image of God is that we are supposed to be in the image and likeness of God. So to do what Aaron and the Israelites did was just bull.
I was looking over John Calvin’s sixteenth century commentary on Exodus, and noted two remarkable ideas. The first is that Calvin attempted to soft-pedal Aaron’s perfidy. He declared: “He briefly narrates this base and shameful deed; yet sufficiently shows, that whilst Aaron yielded to their madness, he still desired to cure it, though, at the same time, he was weak and frightened, so as to pretend to give his assent, because he feared the consequences of the tumult as regarded himself.” The second is that Calvin used the word of God to whip up on his Catholic opponents, likening us to the idolaters in Exodus: “those who corrupt the pure worship of God by their inventions, may pride themselves on their good intentions, they still deny the true God, and substitute devils in His place.”
We are now moving into the last two weeks of Lent. In fact, in just two weeks the Sacred Triduum begins. So we will hear more and more until then from St. John’s Gospel, the Gospel of the sacraments of initiation. Here Jesus is disputing with his opponents. His logic is impeccable. He isn’t bearing witness to His own truth. John the Baptist first bore witness to Him. Then the miracles that Jesus wrought bore witness, which means that God the Father validated His mission. Finally the Scriptures, which all Jews profess to believe, bear witness to the truth of Jesus, to His mission. He is the One foretold in Genesis, in all the prophets, especially Isaiah and Daniel. But because they do not bear the love of God within themselves, the Pharisees refuse to believe in Him. Indeed, history confirms Christ’s words. The Jewish leaders rejected Him, but many of them, about thirty years later, bought into the claims of the false Messiahs who led the Jewish revolt, a revolt that cost them their freedom and their Temple.
What is the message for us today, which is arguably more important to us? First, Christ is calling us to give Him what the Israelites refused to give in both the time of Moses and the time of the apostles–willing obedience to His will. Second, He wants us to see in ourselves the same seed of prideful rebellion that motivated Aaron and his people and the Pharisees and the Romans. See it and repent, especially in this Lenten season. And, of course, He wants us to obey, to follow the Law of loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. So it’s time to redouble our efforts in prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and time to ask the Holy Spirit to strip off the Teflon from our hearts, so that God’s life can flood us with zeal to spread His message to all we know.