The image of the people of Israel worshiping a golden calf, stands perhaps as one the best representations of rebellion against God in the bible. Let’s recall the story of what took place.
Not very long before this incident, this very group of people had been living in slavery in the land of Egypt. But God was able to free them from the hands of their captors and, with Moses as their leader they journeyed through the desert towards a land that God had promised them in order to start new life. As they journeyed, God established with the people a covenant and a rule of life by which they were to honor and love God and one another and, in return, God promised that he would love them and protect them and never leave them. This covenant which was established was to last forever.
In order to ratify or to seal this deal between God and man, Moses climbs to the top of Mount Sinai where he is to meet God face to face. But, in order to do this, he must leave the others behind. What could possibly go wrong. If you have ever been the parent of teen-aged children, and you left them home alone for a weekend for the first time you might be able to remember the worries that went through your mind.
No sooner has Moses left the people then they begin to act out. “Where’s Moses”, they say. “He has been gone so long and left us on our own.” Suddenly the structure that has kept this group together through a difficult journey begins to breakdown. The rules that had been established for the good of the society and everything that is in the covenant is quickly forgotten and, as a result, they get it in their minds to construct an idol out of gold and they begin to celebrate what they consider to be their new found freedom.
What would you do if you were God? Imagine coming home from your well-earned weekend away only to find that your loving children have turned the house upside down and the neighbors have had to call the police because of the noise. We would react as God reacted and naturally, God was furious.
Lucky for the people Moses was there to intervene. In a way he is kind of like the calming influence of Mom when Dad is ready to hit the ceiling. Moses reminds God of all that they have been through. The generations of people that God has walked beside and the time they have shared. And, yes, they are a very stiff-necked and stubborn people, but at the end of the day, he reminds God, that he loves them. Pausing to consider what Moses is saying and knowing it is true, God relents and shows mercy.
We have received so much mercy from God. Time after time we fail and fail again. As St. Paul says, we do so many things that we know we shouldn’t, and we don’t do nearly enough of the things we know we should. Yet God continues to love us. We are his stiff-necked and stubborn people and God never gives up on us.
The season of Lent is a time for us to remember the mercy we have been shown and to be grateful to God. We can show our gratitude by sharing what we have received. God’s mercy abounds, let us be merciful to one another.