First Reading: Exodus 32:7-11,13-14

Presumption and Humility

7 YHWH spoke to Moses, 'Go, get down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves! 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.''

9 YHWH said to Moses, 'I have seen these people, and behold, they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore leave me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation.'

11 Moses begged YHWH his God, and said, 'YHWH, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, that you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your seed as the stars of the sky, and all this land that I have spoken of I will give to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.''

14 YHWH repented of the evil which he said he would do to his people.

World English Bible

Fear, as much as pride, leads people to presume the intentions of others. And, sometimes the humility and faith of one person compensates for damage this presumption causes.

In Exodus 32:1-6, the Israelites felt helpless in their camp at the base of Mt. Sinai. They had not seen Moses since he went up the mountain to receive God's Law. Moses was more than their leader. He was God's spokesperson, tangible proof of Yahweh's presence and power. Without their leader and what he represented, the people felt cut off from the divine.

So, turning to Moses' brother Aaron, the Israelites insisted that he lead them in sacrifice to Yahweh with a symbol of his presence that would give them reassurance. The golden calf (actually a small bull, the sign of strength and power) was molded to put a face on YHWH. And, the celebration began.

As the first reading opens with Exodus 32:7, YHWH was angered by the people's festival. First, God did not order a celebration in his honor; the people declared the celebration in his absence. They presumed to know the mind of God; this was the source of the "depravity." [32:7]

Second, the way the people celebrated angered God. Unlike their neighbors who needed images to focus their worship, God insisted that the people worship him directly; no images were needed, because Yahweh was close to his people. The people presumed to control God's intimacy or distance through their use of an image in worship. Worshiping with images like their neighbors made the Israelites an arrogant, "stiff-necked people." [32:8-9]

Of the Israelites, only Moses remained faithful, so God promised to make him a great nation after destroying the people. [32:10] But Moses implored God to remember his promises that first formed the people and relent. In this way, Moses represented a repentant Israel; his faithfulness covered the sins of the people. [32:13-14]

While today's popular media may dwell on the shortcomings of Christian public figures, the Church grows through the example of the common people. The faithfulness of a few really can overcome the negative image many people have of Christianity. As long as we follow God's will, we will help others to grow in faith. But, the moment we presume to know God's will, we will fail. Presumption, based upon pride or fear, has no place before God.

How do you fight presumption in others?  in yourself?