Daily Reflection for September 29, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  SEPTEMBER 29  •  Venerable Cyriacus the Hermit, of Palestine


In ignorance, many people labor more to avoid suffering in old age and terminal illness than to avoid the torments of hell in the life after old age and death. Such was the case of an unmarried and avaricious man who, from year to year, and with ever greater passion, amassed for himself unnecessary wealth. When asked why he strove so much to pile up excess wealth he replied: “I am gathering it for my old age. This wealth will heal and feed me in old age and sickness.” And indeed, his foreboding came true. In old age, a grave and long-lasting illness befell him. He distributed his accumulated wealth to physicians so they would heal him, and to servants so they would care for him and feed him. His wealth was soon spent, and the illness continued. The physicians and servants abandoned him, and he fell into despair. His neighbors brought him bread until his death, and he was buried at the expense of the community. He had used his wealth for that which he had intended it. God had even done for him according to the man’s will. God had sent him the illness that he had, in a sense, desired, and for which he had prepared great wealth. Nevertheless, all his wealth was unable to alleviate his sufferings in this world-so with what would he be able to alleviate his sufferings in the other world? Nothing, if he took with him neither faith, nor hope, nor charitable deeds, nor prayers, nor repentance! Someone saw a departed man in the great glory of Paradise, and asked him how he had become worthy of that glory. The man replied: “In my earthly life I was the hireling of an evil-doer who never paid me. But I endured all and served him to the end, with hope in God.” Then the onlooker saw another man in even greater glory, and when he asked him, that one replied: “I was a leper, and to the very end I offered gratitude to God for that.” But no one saw in the glory of Paradise the man who had amassed money for illness in old age. (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

So when He [the Lord] made an end of speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him two tablets of testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
            Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, “Rise up and make us gods that shall go before us. As for Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron then said to them, “Remove the golden earrings in the ears of your wives and daughters and bring them to me.” So all the people removed the golden earrings in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He received them from their hands; and he fashioned them with an engraving tool and made a molten calf. Then he said, “These are your gods, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt.” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. Aaron then made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.”
(Exodus 31:18-32:5)

Wow. Just wow. That is the reaction I get every time I read the story of the Ten Commandments, Moses’ journey up the mountain to receive the Tablets of the Law, and the apostasy of Israel. Moses goes up onto the mountain. Remember everything that had just happened to Israel: their children were protected by the blood of the Lamb, God was present in a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day to protect them, Moses parted the sea to give a miraculous path of escape, God quenched their thirst with miraculous waters and fed them with manna and quail. In not a single instance did God fail to protect, defend and care for His people. Then Moses goes up the mountain and doesn’t come back for a while. Instead of remembering everything that God did for them, they sink into idolatry — even Aaron, brother of Moses and priest of God. The golden calf is set up and Moses has to rush down the mountain. If you continue reading in chapter 32-33, you see the fury of Moses and the consequences. He smashes the tablets, grinds them up and make the people drink it. How could the masses of people, and the anointed priest of God forget everything? Again, wow.

There are some clear lessons in the whole story for us, of course:

The first lesson is to not forget God. It was not Israel being led out of Egypt that is the only example of God’s love and care for His people. All of us, being honest, could identify moments of God’s providence and care for us personally. It would behoove us to remember those moments when we are tempted to think He has abandoned us in difficulties and trials. God delivered the Israelites from the might of the Pharaoh, but also allowed them to wander in the wilderness hungry and thirsty. When we are on the journey, do not forget that He walks with us, even allowing “hungry and thirsty” moments.

The second lesson is to not worship idols. How stupid did people have to believe that a golden calf, that they saw being made with materials they provided, could be shown to them with the words, “Behold, the god who led you out of Egypt!” and believe it!!??!! Every wondrous deed done was set aside. Every word they heard was forgotten. Moses disappeared for a few weeks and they decided to set up their “own” god. Wow again. Yet, it is not coincidence that gold was used for the idol. We still use gold to fashion our own idols, even while paying lip service to the one, true God. We worship money, we worship possessions, we worship our own handiwork, thinking it is not God who provides for us, but we ourselves. We forget Him and worship idols.

The third and final lesson is demonstrated by Aaron, the anointed priest of God. He, too, saw and heard everything that happened to Israel. The lesson here is two-fold: do not tempt the anointed of God to apostatize, and the anointed of God must stand up for the truth, even when unpopular. This little “making the golden calf” scene plays out all the time in the life of the Church. We are constantly tempted to forget God, worship idols, and expect the anointed to lead us into all of it. Aaron pleaded with Moses when Moses basically said, “What the heck were you thinking?” Aaron said basically, “I couldn’t do anything with them, so I caved.” God forbid any priest of God today be so weak-willed.

Wow! What a story. And yet, thousands of years ago, it played out pretty much the way things play out today. Trust God or trust the calf?