It seems that this lockdown time and being home a bit more has shifted our focus (unless, you work in essential work areas such as the medical field, or police force, then you may have been busier, and home less) in these past months responding to issues regarding Covid-19.
What we focus on in our lives may be influenced by many different allegiances – our work, family, friends and community, and our faith perspectives. Yet often we are shaped more by our needs and wants in ways that can distract us from what could be more life-giving ways.
The communities we live in are continually being shaped by the ‘gods’ of technology and economics as we aim for cost-cutting and producing things that are faster and discardable so that we can gain immediate experience in a more instant way. I notice there is a correspondent uprise of the ‘slow food movement’ which opposes fast food and seeks ‘to promote local foods and traditional gastronomy and food production …This means resistance to industrial food production’ (see ‘Slow food’ entry in Wikipedia), which involves more transport of food and goods to meet demands.
With regards to technology we might get frustrated when our needs are not met quickly and in the case of technology, we can get annoyed when our computers are slow at downloading data or uploading photos (or is that just me?). And when our computers and gadgets don’t work it can ruin our day as we have become so attached to them. There are now psychological diagnoses and research about overuse of screens and mobile phones such as ‘computer-vision syndrome’ and ‘smartphone addiction’.
Which brings me to a reflection on our reading from Exodus where it seems in this ancient story of the Israelites journeying in the wilderness that they had been complaining to Moses about not getting what they needed and were impatient. Moses goes away up the mountain and is away a long time. So, Aaron, Moses’s co-leader, decides to appease the people’s wish for a way to commune with God and they melt down some gold rings to make a golden calf to worship.
In a way we see the focus of the people shift away from worrying Aaron and Moses towards this golden icon. Here is something shining and alluring, better than the previous model of God that Moses had taught and revealed or we might ask, is it? In the story, this newly minted golden calf is worshipped and sacrificed to, and people start to eat, drink and be merry, as their need for gratification is satisfied. These modes of worship of gathering around sacred objects and making sacrifices may be foreign in our understanding, yet the human tendencies in the story are not. It is easy to want a quick fix when familiar ways do not meet our needs and wants, rather than wait, hope, endure and seek to be faithful. Do we also just shift the focus? without doing the inner work of listening for what might be a beneficial way forward.
As the story continues we have ‘the Lord’ pictured as being very unhappy with people’s behavior in worshipping this golden calf, particularly in the light of the Commandments passed on to Moses. Yet Moses negotiates on the people’s behalf like an advocate. After Moses’s appeal (in verse fourteen) God changes his mind.
What are we to make of this unusual story in Scripture?
Biblical scholar and writer Marcus Borg looked at this Exodus story and asked, ‘what does this mean?’ and further asked ‘how the narrative stories of scripture connect to communities down the centuries. His focus sees that Moses in the story belongs to the narrative community of those:
• who entrust their responsibility to others while they go on a journey
• who are forced to clean up the mess that comes as a result of their absence
• who have to find convincing arguments in pleading another’s case before an authority
• who are shaped by a living relationship with God
• who receive a generational promise from God.
His focus sees that Aaron in the story belongs to the narrative community of those:
• who have had disastrous things happen on their watch
• who play for time when the boss returns
• who don’t take a stand when they know things are wrong.
So, the ancient narratives take on new meaning as connecting to narrative communities of people like us. Perhaps we might consider that we too can choose what gets our focus? and also consider how we would do well to focus on and worship the God we see revealed in Jesus the Christ, rather than seek the easy fix of attaching ourselves to the gods of our time that seem brighter and shinier to satisfy our immediate needs and wants.
For both the giving of the Law, in the Ten Commandments by Moses, and the Law of Love taught by Jesus, invite people to worship God and love their neighbour. This is not easy it involves some spiritual discipline and a change of mindset to see and treat people as beloved children of God, to practice forgiveness and justice and do such good that might build up the community.
Today’s readings invite us to focus on what is good and though many things crave our attention we might ask what spiritual practices might help us, such as rejoicing, praying, waiting, listening, and fostering such fruits of the spirit as love, peace, patience kindness, long suffering, gentleness, generosity, and self-control. When we experience these fruits and focus on what is true and just then we are living The Way of Christ.