Our readings today begin with the story of the Golden Calf. You remember this episode in the life of Israel as recorded in the Torah. Moses was spending 40 days upon Mount Sinai, growing in intimacy with God. During his absence, the people of Israel reverted to their previous practice of idolatry. Moses returns and is justifiably angry and throws down the precious tablets. Then God, feeling betrayed by their ingratitude, threatens to show real wrath. Moses intercedes-imploring God not to give up on the people of Israel.
One might wonder how the faith of the people of Israel could lapse so quickly. God had been more than generous to them-protecting and blessing them during their exodus from Egypt. But, how quickly they forgot!!
Haven’t we all experienced such lapses in faith-forgetting the many ways God has been active and present in our lives? Perhaps you have even experienced such a lapse during our current 40-day period of Lent. Upon entering Lent, did you make grand plans to increase your intimacy with God? Just like the people of Israel, we too can succumb to modern forms of idolatry. (Maybe I should just speak for myself!)
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus emphasizes that he has come into this world that we may know eternal life. It seems to Jesus that many of the Jews of his time were unwilling to make this choice-this leap of faith. The true freedom God offered the people of Israel was now revealed in Jesus. Why could they not grasp this revelation in their midst? In all fairness, we hear this chapter of the Gospel, knowing "the rest of the story." (God bless Paul Harvey!) Maybe if we did not know "the rest of the story", we too would be lacking in faith and understanding-just like some of the Jews in Jesus’ time. This we cannot know.
On Ash Wednesday, as the sign of the cross was inscribed with ashes on our foreheads, we heard the words "Repent, Believe in the Gospel". Through our Scripture readings today, we are invited to confess our faith in Jesus and the life he has revealed for each of us. The choice is ours…let us choose life!!
Angela Howell is a retreatant and volunteer at Mater Dolorosa Passionists Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California.