The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
They made a calf at Horeb
and worshiped a cast image.
They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.
“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”
In our first reading, Moses demonstrates how unusual his relationship is with God. When God is enraged at his own people for their disloyalty, worshipping a golden statue instead of the almighty God, Moses stands in the gap to intercede for them. Not only is Moses close enough to God to know when to answer back, he knows how to remind God of who He is. Moses knows God’s character and nature. More importantly, his knowledge of God makes him able to work with God to accomplish His plan and purpose.
In contrast, Jesus is speaking to those who pretend to know God but who try to use that for their own purpose. Specifically, he is talking to the Pharisees, who search the scriptures but do not have insight into who God is. Instead, they use this knowledge to try to increase their own power. Instead of worshipping God, they are trying to use their knowledge of the scriptures to exalt themselves over other people. This is another form of idolatry. Though they have not made a golden calf, they have nonetheless replaced God with an overinflated image of themselves. Because of this, they see Jesus as a threat. His sovereignty overturns their perceptions of being in charge. As a result, Jesus points out that they do not have the word of God abiding in them, making it impossible for them to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.
Though it may feel as though both of these instances took place a long time ago, this is a danger we all encounter daily. Who comes first? God or myself? Whose purpose am I working to fulfill? God’s purposes, or my own selfish desires? Do I really know God and how to recognize his voice when he is speaking to me? Or do I twist my religion to fit my own narrow understanding? The fact of the matter is, God intended humanity to inherit his own glory which we see in the first reading. God called his people out of Egypt to take care of them himself but they repaid him by worshipping a golden statue made by their own hands. They substituted the person of God, in whose image we have been created, for the image of a grass eating bull, but God had made his people for so much more. Jesus came to mankind as one of us to show us how to know the Father. He came to walk with is to show us how to inherit the glory of God. Instead, the Pharisees preferred their own interpretation of how to inherit the kingdom of God.
While it may feel like putting God first and sacrificing our own desires is extreme and unnecessary, it is the only way to inherit the kingdom of God. God does not want to strip us of our own desires like a cruel tyrant. Rather, he wants us to know that he desires so much more for us. When we put God first, all we are doing is not selling ourselves short. It is not an easy task. Sometimes it feels like God is asking too much from us. Sometimes it seems like we can never catch a break. But in times of purification, it is in our best interest to allow God to be in control. Though the tests and trials of this life are extreme, we can trust that we have a God who is with us, who loves us, and wants us to be with him in everlasting life. Let us pray today for a better relationship with God. Let us ask for ears to hear him better, a mind more open to understanding him, and a heart more willing to follow him.