Posted by Forrest Parkinson

Q 8 (Part 3 fin)
Everyday Idolatry
Then taking him to a high mountain,
the devil showed Jesus in an instant
all the empires of the world.
“I will give you the power and glory of these Kingdoms,
for it is mine, and I can give it to anyone I want.
All you have to do is worship me.”
Jesus retorted, “It is written
‘You must worship God and serve him alone.’”
Having exhausted all these ways of tempting Jesus,
he left him, to return at a later time.
Borg-Powelson-Riegert Reconstruction (1996) ref:
Matthew 4:8-11 & Luke 4: 5-8, 13

Dear Jesus Way Friends,

Our language is full of hyperbole, or overstatement, that can actually help us to pin-point our unspoken or denied “idols.”

The cheesecake was to “die for.” Does gluttony turn food into a god?
He’s “drop-dead” gorgeous. Are we worshipping Adonis?
I “love golf, I really love it.” What deserves our love and priority in our hearts?
I will do “whatever it takes” to grow my business (or further my child.) Does our will to succeed transcend our fear of God and ethical boundaries?
Come down to the real world, money “makes the world go ‘round.” Can we serve God and mammon? (Gravity, makes the real world go ‘round.)

Death, life, love, will and reality are all key words that reveal the intensity of our hearts.

Sometimes it gets confusing. If we call this “idolatry,” then what about those intense qualities that inspire us?

What about the mother saying “I live for my children.” The man who says; “My family is my life.” How do we understand the Chief Petty Officer who says “The Navy gives my life meaning. I’d rather be working with these sailors than anything else.” The teenager who works two part time jobs to pay for the parts to fix up the ’68 Mustang. The conservatory trained musician who works as a nanny to support her performance career. Is this idolatry? Maybe or maybe not. Life is complicated.

Generally, we seek progress rather than perfection. My moral theology professor liked to comment, if there is an unmixed motive out there, I haven’t met it!

If we can accept that idolatry is in everyday human stumbling, whether habitual or occasional, I think we can better see the ordinary opportunity to practice the Jesus imperative to “Only Worship God.”

Consider the winning-obsessed dads (or moms) at soccer games. They are conveying, by power of example, a distortion of values that we can name idolatry. Competition is a natural human behavior common to all social mammals. A team sport seeks to channel that instinct into socializing forms. Parents choose soccer because there is broad opportunity for participation, the exercise is healthy and kids often have fun. Competition can push some children to excel.

By excelling in comparison with peers, a soccer player will feel good about themselves. The overly competitive parents identify their own ego with their child’s success. Winning, ultimately, is about the parents ego projected on the child. Athletic success validates primarily the parent, but also the co-operating and enmeshed child’s ego. Wining becomes more important than the socializing benefits of the team because winning affirms the individual ego. The thrill of the individual win is more primitive than the joy of a team functioning in well-practiced harmony. Ego validation is a core principle of idolatry.

Healthy parents admire how their peers help their children contain and cope with defeats. In the ordinary course of maturity, parents help children experience ego-validation from within rather than from the external score board. “Your best is excellence for you.” “On the day, the fastest runner won because the slower runners pushed her! You share in her success.”

Remember the famous bumper sticker “The person who dies with the most toys wins.”? This is a near perfect description of every-day idolatry. It speaks to life and death meaning, purpose and interior verses external validation. “My life has meaning because of the stuff I’ve collected.” “My life has meaning because of the good schools from which my children have graduated.” This distortion of ego-validation by external measures is an example of every-day idolatry.

Is the cheesecake is to die for? If the act of self-indulgence rather than self-giving validates our ego, then maybe we do die a little bit.

If the fellow is drop-dead gorgeous then it surely is a thrill to revel in our human instinctive response, but something dies when a person is identified solely on sex appeal. We all want to feel alive but we know that there is more to a human person that how attractive they are and it is wrong to relate to sex-appeal the exclusion of all else. Even the moral train-wrecks we call beauty pageants give the contestants a moment to talk about world peace. When we lust rather than love the person for all they are, we worship a false god. When we a love a person as the mystery of their whole person, I think we are then worshipping the true God.

Because idolatry reflects the interior progress of spiritual maturity, there is a relative aspect. The rich old lady who demands her bread be perfectly toasted may be guiltier of idolatry than the poor peasant who obsesses over his daughter’s wedding feast. The intense focus on sex appeal for unmarried young people may be less idolatry than the nip-tuck excesses of their grandparents. The 70 hours a week spent by an immigrant at their business may be less idolatrous than the 20 hours spent by the semi-retired and interfering founder of an established business.

There is an important spiritual question for all of us want to follow Jesus teaching to “only worship God.” For any object of value, how do I value it? Here is where spiritual maturity and introspection come together. If we recognize what value we can ask ourselves “why?” Can we become aware of what is “holy” or seems to be sacred? If we can, we can worship God in anything without worshiping the thing.

Next Week
Jesus’ principles of God’s reign:
#1: It belongs to poor people.
Q 9 (Part 1)
Poverty and abundance as signs of God.

Poor people are fortune because the Realm of God is theirs.
Around this time, Jesus went out into the hills seeking solitude and spent the entire night in prayer.
At daybreak, he came down with his disciples.
A great crowd of people from all parts of Judea, Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon
had come to hear him and be cured of their diseases.
Fixing his eyes on his disciples he began to speak.
“Fortunate are you who are poor, for yours is the realm of God.”
Borg-Powelson-Riegert Reconstruction (1996) ref:
Matthew 5: 1-2, 3, 6 & Luke 6: 12, 17, 20-21

Matthew 5:1-2, 3, 6
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain;
and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Luke 6:12, 17, 20-21
Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray;
and he spent the night in prayer to God.
He came down with them and stood on a level place,
with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people
from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,for you will laugh.