Idolatry and/versus Discipleship
There are similarities in idolatry and discipleship. The Bible often uses the language of “following after” other gods. Similarly the New Testament call from Christ is to “follow me.” That is to say that the call to discipleship is a call to no longer “follow after” idols and gods of our making, but to follow after Jesus. Jesus supplants the idol, in fact you could almost say (and I tried to argue once in a paper to theology professor – yes I’m not always very wise) that Jesus functions as a God-given idol to replace the idols we already have in our lives.
Drop back over a thousand years earlier. It’s fascinating that the golden calf of Exodus fame (Exodus 32) is not created because the people are missing God. What they are missing is Moses.
“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
The golden calf – the god they are creating – is because Moses has quite literally been acting as “God to them.” (As God tells Moses he will do for Aaron in Exodus 4.) With Moses gone too long they need to replace, not God, but Moses as God (or at least Moses as intermediary of God to the people). Seeing this we acknowledge that people need a tangible reminder of our way in the world. We always have needed this, and we always will. If we do not have one, we will make one.
What is your tangible reminder? What leads you in the following after the way of Christ instead of other ways (because they are very many other ways to go)? We need something or someone(s) to keep us on the way. This reminds me of The Shema, the first prayer taught to Jewish children:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
The Shema keeps the Jew in the way of God. It is a daily reminder of their/our way in the world. It is God-given idol (icon maybe if the idol word is too problematic for you) to keep other idols, other ways, at bay.
Jesus functions as that for his disciples, and the community of faith (the Body of Christ, which might be – for you – a church, but also be other forms of faith community) serves that for us. But in so far as that community is not part of our daily life it is not enough. This is why devotional practice is so much a part of the journey to follow Christ. It is a practice that we incorporate into our daily living as a reminder even when we are apart from the community that is our living reminder. So this lent, what keeps you on the way?