Our first reading is part of the story about Israel in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt. At this point in the Exodus account, not much is known about the God of Israel beyond his role as a liberating God. And so, the loyalty of the people is easily compromised as they experience the hardship of the desert and the uncertainty of their future. They naturally appeal to the more familiar pagan gods. These gods are less demanding and can magically work miracles. One needs merely to bow down and worship such a god that appears like a golden calf—not a bellowing voice from the mountaintop that only Moses can approach.
Later in the bible, this kind of silly idolatry will be laughed to scorn and all its foolishness revealed.
But through the pleading of Moses, God turns this act of betrayal into an occasion of grace. The people must learn that the true God who liberated them is so unlike the false pagan gods. For the God of Israel is also the God of Mercy, a lesson Jesus, too, teaches in today’s gospel and that we have to continually learn every time we fail in our relationship with God.
The second reading fits in with our other two readings. The First Letter to Timothy was probably not written by Paul himself, but by one of Paul’s companions who knew well Paul’s deepest sentiments. So we hear about Paul’s sense of unworthiness—especially as a minister of the gospel—and at the same time his supreme confidence in God’s patience and mercy. Boldly, Paul claims his experience can serve as an example for all believers—for all of us.
—Walter Modrys SJ
This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.