Pentecost 14: Context Is Everything, September 15, 2019
As Professor Fennimore of the A.D. Garrett crime thrillers is fond of saying, Context is everything. Whenever we look back – whether on our tragedies or our triumphs – we stand in a different place than we did when we first experienced those events. Time has moved along. We simply see and experience the world in a different way. Even if we’re walking on the same dirt, we are under a different sky, in a new day. The context is different, and our perspective at any point comes from that context.
In our Old Testament reading this week, we can see a difference in perspective playing out. Moses is up on Mount Sinai in the cloud of God’s glory when chaos breaks loose back down the mountain with the Israelites. Moses has left his brother Aaron in charge, and Aaron has just made the Israelites a golden calf to worship as their god.
And God is furious! Get right back down that mountain, Moses, and straighten all this out, God roars.
But is God really furious? And was the Israelites’ action really that unreasonable?
When we imagine ourselves in different places we see things differently, and maybe that’s what God is trying to show Moses. Up on top of Mount Sinai, God has been talking with Moses. That’s really heady stuff. It might be easy to lose sight of what things are like down at the bottom.
The Israelites have gotten really tired. They’ve been waiting for Moses to come back for forty days and forty nights, which, even if it’s a metaphor, is a really long time. And they don’t even know yet that God has just told Moses never to make an idol. So what happens next? God tells Moses to get himself back down that mountain and sort all this out before God clears the slate and restarts Moses’s leadership with a brand new people.
And then Moses starts to empathize with the Israelites. Moses implores God to remember that God brought these same Israelites out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand. Why would God give up now, Moses asks.
As Moses reasons with God, he explains God’s own kindness and mercy to the Israelites, putting himself back into the context of the Israelites. Moses learns God’s own compassion by explaining God’s compassion to God. Was God really furious? Context is everything.