The golden calf is still God’s competition

Monday, April 30, 2012 — Week of 4 Easter

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, Editor and Prophetic Witness, 1879

Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 961)

Psalms 41, 52 (morning) // 44 (evening)

Exodus 32:1-20

Colossians 3:18 – 4:6(7-18)

Matthew 5:1-10

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Power and control; greed and gluttony; money and sex. How powerfully these drive us. These are our “golden calves.”

It might be interesting to take these emotional drives and take note of how many times they are stimulated today. Notice the commercials and ads on TV, billboard, radio or online; in newspapers or magazines. How many appeal to our needs for power and control, greed and gluttony, money and sex? Monitor your own inner stimuli and motivation. How often do you have emotional reactions that are triggered by the desire for power and control, greed and gluttony, money and sex?

Today in our Exodus epic, there is a vacuum of healthy leadership. Moses has disappeared on the mountain. There he is talking with God. This is the God who brought the people freedom from the oppression they had suffered at the hands of the Egyptian culture which was a culture driven by power and control, greed and gluttony, money and sex. God rescued them. But now they find themselves in a desert wilderness feeling vulnerable and powerless, living simply and dependently, learning the new rules of communal living — compassionate, mutual regard. The old ways and old days haunt them.

The golden calf was a powerful symbol. Archeologists have uncovered idols and statues of bulls from many ancient cultures. The idol represented the needs of the people: power, wealth, and sex. The bull is powerful. Large and strong, with dangerous horns, a fighting bull is ferocious and deadly. We want a god who is powerful enough to fulfill our needs. Male bulls with large sexual organs are an image of sexual prowess. The gold statue mirrored the people’s desire for wealth and prosperity. Rituals of bull worship also included the sacrifice of great animals, with the burning of the inedible parts as a gift to the gods and the eating of the steaks as the core of a great feast and banquet. In a culture that rarely ate meat, such festivals were a great attraction. With abundant food and drink, suggestive dance and music, sexual urges and tensions could be released, sometimes with the aid of religious prostitutes.

This was Moses’ competition: the revelry of a celebration of power, gluttony and sex. The golden calf is still God’s competition. Politics, economics and personal status are all driven by power, gluttony and sex.

Most of us become addicted, in one form or another, to power, gluttony and sex; to control, greed, and money. The symbols of their possession are the symbols of status in our culture.

God’s invitation to real life is not as flashy. Moses found that the Ten Commandments were a hard sell. The Beatitudes of Jesus which we read today aren’t as hot and sexy as the lure of the bull. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, …those who mourn, …the meek, …those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, …the merciful, …the pure in heart, …the peacemakers, …those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” On the elementary school playground and in many corporate settings, these aren’t the qualities that get reward and respect.

In our culture, most people try the path of power and control, greed and gluttony, money and sex first. Only when it leaves us hurt and unfulfilled do we tend to turn to the alternatives. Three thousand years later, and its still God vs. the golden calf.

By Lowell Grisham

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