Fr Luke Veronis

More than a hundred million Americans will watch the Super Bowl this weekend and between 800 million and a billion people worldwide. It is the most watched event on TV in America with more than 45% of people watching the big game. Of course, the Super Bowl isn’t just about football. It combines Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts, athletes we pay $50 million/year with Rihanna, a musician worth $1.4 billion. Then there is the gambling – imagine 40 million people will wager more than $8 billion on this one game! Sports, Entertainment, and Gambling represent three of the greatest idols in our society today.

Now there’s nothing wrong with football or sports in general. Actually, I love watching football and as you all know, I’m a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles! Yet, followers of Jesus need to look at everything through the lens of Christ and His Kingdom of Heaven. Holy Scripture warns us to beware of idols that tempt to draw our attention away from the one true God. “Seek FIRST the kingdom of heaven” above all else!

Sports. Celebrities. Entertainment. Gambling. How much attachment, devotion, time, and money do we give to these great gods of modern society, time and attention that far exceed whatever meager devotion, time, money and attention we give to the one true God! Can we say that we are truly seeking first the kingdom of God when we gamble $8 billion on a single sporting event and when we give countless hours of our attention to these contemporary gods? Just watch the fervor, excitement, and passion this weekend in Arizona.

On a very small scale, I get a taste of this once a year when I go see a Philadelphia Eagles football game. It’s enjoyable time of fellowship and fun with my boys, my brothers, and my nephews. Yet, each year I depart from the experience reflecting on how too many fans go way overboard in their fanaticism of the sport – many have created the sport itself into their religion and the athletes into their gods.

It’s noteworthy to remember what the very first commandment God gave to Moses and the Israelites on Mount Sinai: “I am the Lord your God, and you shall have no other gods before me…. Do not make for yourself an idol in any form.”

Now, what does the topic of the Super Bowl and modern idolatry have to do with today’s Gospel story about the Loving Father and the Prodigal Son. Well, both sons in the story fell away from God through a form of egocentric idolatry, their utter focus on SELF. The younger son could care less about his father, his brother, his family name, or anyone else. He was only interested in what he thought would make himself happy. “Father, give me my inheritance now!” And he took his father’s money and left to a far way land to be by himself, to do whatever he wanted, to live a self-centered and self-absorbed life of entertainment and revelry. His idol was his selfish desires of what he thought would bring him happiness. His ego was his god.

The older son also fell into a different form of egocentric idolatry. “Father, I have been the obedient son. I have done whatever you asked of me. I have stayed in this house working for you all my life. Look at ME! I have been a perfect son.. Now give me what I deserve.” His pride and arrogance lead him to be too full of himself. Yes, he lived with the Father but he never adopted the loving spirit and merciful heart of the Father. He did not have an open heart to become like his Father. His false idol was his ego and how good he was. That’s why he showed no compassion or mercy on his younger brother.

The younger son, however, realized his sin. Yes, he deeply offended his Father. He ran away from his home. He squandered his father’s inheritance. He lived a hedonistic life of excess, doing whatever his heart desires with no restraint. He came to the brink of despair when he realized how meaningless his life had become living with the pigs. He lost everything. Yet, he realized the senselessness of his egocentric pursuits as he lost his humanity.

He came to his senses. He remembered who he was. He remembered his true home. He rejected his selfish and egocentric desired and reflected on his authentic identity as a child of his Father. Thus, he repented. He turned back toward his Father and he made the effort to return to his Father’s house.

Today, I want all of us to reflect on how we have strayed away from our heavenly Father and have squandered his inheritance with our own idolatry. Don’t think that it matters that you are in church today and maybe that this message isn’t for you. Remember the older son who never left the father’s side, yet who still fell away into his self-centered idolatry.

I want each of us to seriously think about what idols dominate own lives. For some it may be the Super Bowl and sports and the athlete gods. For others it may be Rihanna and entertainment world and the celebrity gods. For a growing number of people it may be the passion of gambling, whether sports gambling, casino gambling, or bit coin and stock market gambling. For many, our idolatry may be more deceptive – like the idolatry of family itself and making our children our gods. And then there is the idolatry of our work, of making money, of our profession, of our hobbies, of social media, and of whatever else takes up too much of our time, effort and money.

Remember: “I am the Lord your God, and you shall have no other gods before me…. Do not make for yourself an idol in any form.” The first of the 10 Commandments was a reminder of WHO GOD IS, and of how He needs to be the central focus and relationship in our lives! We are called to seek first the Kingdom of God!

God know the temptations that assails every fallen human heart. We are tempted to create images and ideas, people and demagogues, forms of entertainment that consume our time and attention. Be on guard. Be vigilant. Be repentant! Let us come to our senses, as the Prodigal Son, and honestly see ourselves for who we are and where we are, and then let us get up and return back to our Father’s house.

So, we can watch the Super Bowl tonight and root for the Eagles! We can take pleasure in sports and various entertainers. We can be engaged in the various aspects of life. Yet we need to take care not to allow anything in life to become an idol, a symbol of worship that demands too much of our time, efforts and treasure, replacing our time and devotion to the One True God!

“I am the Lord your God,” the first of the Ten Commandments says, “And you shall have no other gods before me.”


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