Exodus 32:15-24, 30-34
"Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin-"
We all know this story. I can’t count the number of times I have read or heard reference to this famous narrative of the "golden calf" and its lesson about the worship of false gods. Moses goes up to Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments and comes back to find the Israelites in obscene celebration praising an idol-an image of a calf fashioned from their golden jewelry. The image is so popular that it’s become almost secularized, often used to refer to people’s obsession with wealth over more important, more enduring things. So, I was surprised when a very different lesson struck me upon my most recent review of the passage. Forgiveness.
Moses has just rescued his people from a life of imprisonment and slavery. They witnessed the greatness of the Lord swallow up their captors with the waters of the Red Sea. But life is rough out in the desert. Food and water are scarce, and the people are restless and unsure of their future. So to ease their fears, the Israelites fashion a gaudy statue for praise and worship. When Moses comes upon this scene, he is so enraged that he breaks the tablets upon which the Lord has bestowed the Ten Commandments. It almost seems like this could be the end of it all right here. But he doesn’t abandon his people. Instead he goes back up the mountain-this time to beg mercy for the weak and foolish Israelites.
So, Moses asks God to forgive what seems like the unforgiveable-a betrayal of the God who saved them from certain death. Remember that Moses’ relationship with God is a new one. He didn’t know what the answer would be. Would God give pardon or punishment?
Perhaps in my more self-righteous youth, I focused on the sins of the Israelites. It was easy to point to the failings of others. But now, I find myself understanding the hope for mercy and forgiveness and the pain of wondering if such mercy will be forthcoming. Am I worthy of forgiveness? Is there some limit to God’s compassion? Am I asking too much of God? In other words: Will God forgive me my sins? I am sure we have all sat in the heaviness of this silence waiting for God’s answer.
But God’s answer to Moses-and to all of us-has already come in the form of the sacrifice of his only Son. The power of God’s word, sown in our hearts like the tiniest of seeds, will grow and flourish. Its branches will be tall and strong and give shelter and comfort. Through faith in Christ all things are possible, whether it be the transformation of a tiny seed to a majestic tree or the forgiveness of great sin. Now, we need only sow the seed.
Marlo Serritella ([email protected]) is on the staff at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago, Illinois.