Saturday, May 13, 2017

Real Idolatry


Acts 14: 5-18

I was taking a priest friend of mine out to eat one evening when we happened to drive past a non-denominational church with a giant statue of Jesus in the front yard.  It caught both of our eyes because it was huge, blocky, and had its’ arms extended outward in kind of a ‘zombie’ motif.  After we passed it we were both silent for a few seconds before I said, in a very matter of fact way, “They should save the idolatry for us, we do it better.”  At which point, we both laughed harder than we should at the Catholic “in-joke”. 
The word idolatry gets thrown around in the Christian community willy-nilly.  In the secular world, the buzz word for people who don’t agree with you is “Nazi”.  Any person or political group that doesn’t fall in line with your views can be (and according to almost any social media comment should be) called a Nazi.  In the Christian community, the buzz word thrown around a lot is Idolatry-or Idolater.  It gets thrown at we Catholics a lot, because we like our art-or as I like to call it “religious bling”.  There are a couple problems with the over use of both Nazi and Idolatry though.  One is that the people hurling the insult often times don’t really understand the foundation of where those words/ideologies come from and because they don’t the words are slowly losing their real meaning/power.  Two, it’s a blanket judgement of a person or people that prevents any real conversation, learning, growth, understanding, and love.  (All of those things we are supposed to do for and with each other.)  Today’s reading reminded me that this is an important thing to understand.

Idolatry was the social norm of the time of Paul.  Monotheism was the minority.  The whole of the gentile world practiced some form of very obvious (to a Jewish person, like Paul) idolatry.  So, when he healed the sick in these verses the gentiles did/believed what was their religious tendency.  They attempted to make gods out of Paul and Barnabas. They attempted to make sacrifice to them.  Those parts are super important when we attempt to understand idolatry.   Paul and Barnabas have a beautifully Jewish and Christian reaction (they tear their garments, which is a Jewish sign of great grief) and try to put the light where it belongs, on the One True God. 

Let us look deeper at the idolatry part of these verses.  The crowd decides that Paul and Barnabas are gods, and even decide which gods they are.  They then decide to sacrifice to them. They want to follow them specifically.  That is classic and very obvious (to us) idolatry.  In fact, that is the process of all idolatry.  Step one: decide what/who your god is (what you love and adore). Step two: give that god your worship-with some sacrifice. Step three: follow that god.  So that, in a nutshell is all of idolatry, the definition of which has not changed from that time to this. 

As I said earlier, the lack of understanding of the word makes the word lose its’ power.  The insidious part of the lack of real understanding of this particular word is that it can both prevent you from real worship AND it can shake your faith.  If you don’t understand what idolatry really is then when some well-meaning but misinformed person tells you that because you have a statue in your church you are an evil idolater, that can cause spiritual crisis.  If you don’t understand what the real meaning of the word is then you might actually fall into the spiritual trap of idolatry. 

In our modern world, the danger is less likely to be a statue than it is to be a person, a state, or an item we use.  Let me be specific.  If you put your priest, pastor, TV personality, or other human before God, following him and not the Father and Jesus, that is idolatry.  If you put your faith in money, sacrificing time, relationships, and desire for it over God, that is idolatry.  If you replace worship of God with worship of self, self-image, beauty, then that is idolatry.  In other words, Idolatry isn’t having art it is making that art more important than God, Jesus, and keeping the commandments of Him.  It is following people, sacrificing to and for temporary things that take our focus from the truth.  Anything we put more importance over God is our modern idol. 

Are there Catholics that worship statues? Probably.  Just as there are probably Baptists that worship the television, Pentecostals who worship the gifts rather than the Giver, Anglicans who worship money, or fill in the blank kind of human that worships fill in the blank kind of person, place, thing.  It’s not a denominational problem, it’s a personal sin. 

We have the Good News to save us though!  Jesus says in John 14: 21-26 what real worship is:  Jesus said to his disciples:
"Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him."
Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him,
"Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us
and not to the world?"
Jesus answered and said to him,
"Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

"I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit
whom the Father will send in my name—
he will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you."

So, who is your God today? 

Just some food for thought and prayer. 

Here I am, Lord, send me! 

LLB