“Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it” (Gen 28:16). Here we wonder about encountering G-d at the intersection of Bible and Life–typically prompted by the (Episcopal) Book of Common Prayer.
Moses has persuaded the LORD not to destroy the people and start over with Moses, but there’s still the problem of the people “running wild (for Aaron had let them run wild, to the derision of their enemies).” Moses has to ask for volunteers to salvage the situation; the Levites step up; the seriousness of the situation is reflected in the death toll.
The bigger problem: with the treaty torn up (the tablets broken, v.19), do the LORD and the people have a future, and on what basis? When Moses returns to the LORD to plead for forgiveness, the divine response is two-fold: a command to lead the people to the Land accompanied by an “angel.” Not by the LORD? All the instructions regarding the tabernacle and the priesthood (chapters 25-31): are they all now moot? The plague of unspecified severity (v.34, omitted, oddly, by the Lectionary) seems almost an afterthought.
Looking back over the whole chapter, what advice would we have given Aaron, with Moses off stage for who knows how long and the people expressing real needs? Or we can flip the question. Followers’ expectations constrain their leaders. When do our expectations place our leaders in Aaron’s situation?
In a post-Christian society ‘sin’ turns out to be a pretty useless word, if one is, like Francis Spufford, trying to commend Christianity to that society. Spufford’s solution in his book Unapologetic is to talk about the human propensity to fuck things up (HPtFtU). HPtFtU is on full display in our first reading: Israel is newly freed from Egypt, on a beeline to a land flowing with milk and honey, the ink not yet dry—so to speak—on the treaty that secures Israel’s status as the “treasured possession” of the God who’s just gained their freedom without breaking a sweat. The text is an opportunity to wrestle with Spufford’s diagnosis: “The HPtFtU is bad news, and like all bad news is not very welcome, especially if you let yourself take seriously the implications that we actually want the destructive things we do, that they are not just an accident that keeps happening to poor little us, but part of our nature; that we are truly cruel as well as truly tender, truly loving and at the same time truly likely to take a quick nasty little pleasure in wasting or breaking love, scorching it knowingly up as the fuel for some hotter or more exciting feeling.”