Human beings don’t change much over the centuries, even over millennia. The people of Israel saw God act in power but easily turned to a golden calf of their own making and worshiped that, crediting it with rescuing them from Egypt. We easily put our trust in science, expecting it to solve all our problems. We, like the Israelites, often look in the wrong places for God. Lent is a good time to consider this and see if it’s true for us at this moment.
The readings at the service on 7 April were Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 106:19-23, John 5:31-end. My reflection follows:
Recently I’ve been following a study on Moses as a leader. Many of the lessons that are drawn out in the studies are very helpful. They are probably even better as they come from the story of the people of Israel, a story that is familiar to most of us. Gaining new insights from familiar stories shows the depth of the Bible and its relevance to today, even though it is an ancient text.
Whenever I read the story in Exodus about the people of Israel I admit that I become quite frustrated with them and I wonder how Moses coped. Leading here on Epiphany Island has its challenges but nothing like the difficulties Moses faced.
I find it so hard to understand how the Israelites could quickly turn away from God. Everything that God had promised in terms of the plagues in Egypt had come true. At no time had God let the people down. When they had escaped but were sure they were trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptians, he provided a way forward across the dry sea bed. He gave the people bread, water and meat. He gave them victory in battle. Then, having proved himself faithful, God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and asked that the people agree to keep his covenant and in return they would be his treasured possession and a kingdom of priests. The people agreed: ‘Everything you have said, we will do.’
Such a short time later, Moses had to descend Mount Sinai in haste as the Israelites had forgotten their promise. Once Moses had been away collecting the Law from God they gave up on him, deciding that he must have disappeared. Not only that, they gave up on God and decided to make their own god from gold. Suddenly a golden calf that had recently been earrings was credited with rescuing them from Egypt. It’s really difficult to see why they would believe that this idol had power, but they did. They were looking in the wrong place for something in which to put their trust, despite all the evidence God had given them to show he was trustworthy.
If we read on through the Old Testament, time and again the people turned to other gods and eventually God punished them in the hope of bringing them to their senses. After all that, you might think that they would have learnt to trust God and his promises but it seems not from what we read in John’s Gospel.
Jesus is there among the people, doing great things, healing and teaching. They had only to look at the wonderful works of Jesus, to listen to the testimony of John the Baptist, to read what Moses had said, to know that Jesus was the Messiah. Yet with the Son of God in their very midst, they were continuing to search the Scriptures hoping to find eternal life. Meanwhile the source of eternal life was there speaking to them.
Like the ancient Israelites, the Jews of Jesus time were looking in the wrong place for a God they could trust. They worshipped the scriptures, not the golden calf, but it left them just as blind to the truth. God’s works of power in the wilderness had been a testimony that he was the one God. Jesus’ works of power in Judea were a testimony that he was sent by the one God. But the people would not believe the evidence before them.
I wonder if we are the same today. People don’t change much really. I don’t think we are in a position to look down on the people of Israel as an ancient and stupid people. I suspect we can be just as stupid despite our apparent sophistication.
There is evidence around that Jesus rose from the dead, that he still can act with power in our world today, that he answers prayers and can be trusted. And yet so many deny the resurrection and put their trust in science to solve the world’s ills. They are looking in the wrong place for something in which to put their trust.
Perhaps during Lent it’s worthwhile each of us looking to see where we put our trust. Is it in God who through Jesus has given us the free gift of eternal life if we choose to believe in him? Or do we trust in rituals, or being the right denomination, or saying the right words, or a myriad of other things?
We can only answer this for ourselves. It’s not up to each of us to point the finger at others but to ask God to show us ourselves clearly and to lead us if we find that we are lost. May he give us grace to see clearly.