Reading 1, Exodus 32:7-14
7 The Lord then said to Moses, ‘Go down at once, for your people whom you brought here from Egypt have become corrupt.
8 They have quickly left the way which I ordered them to follow. They have cast themselves a metal calf, worshipped it and offered sacrifice to it, shouting, “Israel, here is your God who brought you here from Egypt!” ‘
9 The Lord then said to Moses, ‘I know these people; I know how obstinate they are!
10 So leave me now, so that my anger can blaze at them and I can put an end to them! I shall make a great nation out of you instead.’
11 Moses tried to pacify his God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger blaze at your people, whom you have brought out of Egypt by your great power and mighty hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians say, “He brought them out with evil intention, to slaughter them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth?” Give up your burning wrath; relent over this disaster intended for your people.
13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom you swore by your very self and made this promise: “I shall make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and this whole country of which I have spoken, I shall give to your descendants, and it will be their heritage for ever.”
14 The Lord then relented over the disaster which he had intended to inflict on his people
The total childishness of the people is seen in their worship of the golden calf, which they have made from their own gold, but which has assumed a magical status in their eyes. This is our God, they say, because it is visible, material and demands nothing of them except their surplus wealth. The status of wealth in our society today is similar: an icon to which we sacrifice our surplus wealth while ignoring the demands of justice and peace. What bare-faced liars they are, who pretend to value the deaths of young, working class men in Afghanistan, while refusing to forego their bonuses for the sake of their country. Indeed it could be argued that our current financial crisis comes from capering round the golden calf of capital, when we ought to have been attending to matters of real substance, like the scandalously low minimum wage, or even the care of the vast army of wrinklies like me, who are about to burden the health service with our needs!
The author of Exodus depicts God as angry, which is offensive to some liberal Christians today, for whom the deity is always p.c. Many Greek and Roman philosophers also thought that Gods could never change, and hence had no feelings, they were -a-pathetic in the root sense. If, however we are to imagine a God with feelings at all, then those feelings have to belong to a credible character. I find love without anger incredible. God loves his people and is outraged at their infidelity. But Moses, who loves God and the people, places himself between the people and their angry God, arguing that love cannot justify destruction of the beloved, whatever they may have done. This is truly the act of a “son of God”, who understands the heart of God better than He does Himself. There is profound humour in the Jewish picture of a God who needs reminded of his own nature.
Gospel, John 5:31-47
31 Were I to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be true;
32 but there is another witness who speaks on my behalf, and I know that his testimony is true.
33 You sent messengers to John, and he gave his testimony to the truth-
34 not that I depend on human testimony; no, it is for your salvation that I mention it.
35 John was a lamp lit and shining and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.
36 But my testimony is greater than John’s: the deeds my Father has given me to perform, these same deeds of mine testify that the Father has sent me.
37 Besides, the Father who sent me bears witness to me himself. You have never heard his voice, you have never seen his shape,
38 and his word finds no home in you because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.
39 You pore over the scriptures, believing that in them you can find eternal life; it is these scriptures that testify to me,
40 and yet you refuse to come to me to receive life!
41 Human glory means nothing to me.
42 Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you.
43 I have come in the name of my Father and you refuse to accept me; if someone else should come in his own name you would accept him.
44 How can you believe, since you look to each other for glory and are not concerned with the glory that comes from the one God?
45 Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father: you have placed your hopes on Moses, and Moses will be the one who accuses you.
46 If you really believed him you would believe me too, since it was about me that he was writing;
47 but if you will not believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?
Jesus, speaking as a prophet, attacks the hard-heartedness of the religious leaders who reject him. John the Baptist, Jesus says, bore witness to him, and his own healing ministry should provide evidence of his authenticity, but their sticking point is his relationship to God. They do not like him identifying with the will of God. Jesus retorts that they hate the Father and would prefer a teacher who left God out of it. Worse, Jesus accuses them of not understanding the Mosaic tradition, which, as a whole, is a witness to Jesus.
There is an exclusiveness in the way John presents Jesus (see yesterday’s blog for some words about John’s presentation), and this might lead towards intolerance of other points of view. It is best to interpret John as emphasising the uniqueness of Jesus’ relationship with God, which is precisely not exclusive, but open to anyone who believes.
John, perhaps carelessly, sometimes refers to the opposition as the “Jews.”. We don’t really know whether this is a correct translation of the Greek word used by John. Whatever his intention we should see passages like this, as warning against a kind of religious blindness, found in all ethnic groups, and make sure it doesn’t affect our vision.