NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13
So often overlooked by the faithful, the responsorial psalm, which bridges the gap between our first and second readings, provides us with some of the oldest and most heartfelt prayers of humankind. The refrain we use today complements well the text of the psalm, and should be on the lips of all those who call themselves Christian: “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” The psalm, too, reflects well the heartfelt thoughts of so many who feel deprived of the justice they deserve:
I will hear what God proclaims:
The Lord – for He proclaims peace.
Near indeed is His salvation to those who fear Him,
Glory dwelling in our land.
Kindness and truth shall meet:
Justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
And justice shall look down from heaven.
The Lord Himself will give His benefits;
Our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before Him,
And prepare the way of His steps.
The psalms give us a glimpse of who God was for Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, and the disciples in a storm-tossed boat. It is the God we worship and adore, a God who sent His only Son into our world to suffer and die that we might have life. He is a God of justice; in Jesus, justice and peace have kissed, and neither are possible without the other. We are reminded today of this truth in the midst of all our difficulties, just as Elijah and the disciples were able to find their God in the face of frightening challenges and difficulties.
Every age seems to be a difficult age for prophets who so often make the established authorities feel uncomfortable. Elijah had seriously angered King Ahab and the infamous Jezebel by slaughtering the so-called prophets of Baal. There were 450 prophets of Baal calling on their god to ignite a young bull that was to be sacrificed. None were able to ignite the sacrifice. Afterwards, Elijah was able to call down the God of the Israelites to ignite his sacrifice, and the Israelites rose as one to wreak vengeance on the so-called prophets of Baal.
This of course did not sit well with Ahab and Jezebel who vowed to kill Elijah by the end of the next day, and so Elijah, just before today’s first reading, prays that God might take his life, so dejected and depressed is he. God literally feeds Elijah, giving him the strength to carry on and walk forty days and forty nights to God’s mountain. Holed up in a cave, this is where we find Elijah in our first reading. God tells him to stand by the entrance to the cave, for He would be passing by.
It is here that we learn something about Elijah, and something about the God Elijah worships. God’s passing by would not be obvious, and it would take insight and a clear understanding of who the God of Israel truly is. Perhaps what is being rejected is the more customary places one would expect to find God, things that demand one’s attention: heavy winds that rend the mountains and crush rocks, earthquakes and mesmerizing fire. But God was not to be found in those. Rather, the unassuming whispering sound of a breeze is where Elijah is convinced God resides, and it’s that whispering breeze which causes Elijah to cover his face, for he should not look on the face of God. In the midst of all that Elijah has been through, he is able to look intently enough to see the face of God.
Our gospel reading tells us of the disciples who Jesus sends to the other side of the lake, while He stays behind to dismiss the crowds He has just fed. Jesus seems to cherish His alone time, and He uses it to pray. Meanwhile, the disciples are being tossed about in a boat that the high winds were buffeting. There is no explanation of why Jesus does what He does, but in the middle of the night He comes walking towards the disciples, who think at first they are seeing a ghost. The impetuousness of Peter is strikingly visible as he asks Jesus to command him to come to Jesus “on the water.” The seas were rough, and the wind hadn’t died down, yet Jesus bids Peter to come to Him, and Peter boldly steps out of the boat. It is not long before Peter recognizes the strength of the wind, and doubting his ability to maneuver the seas, he begins to sink, begging Jesus to save him. Jesus’ outstretched hand keeps Peter from sinking beneath the water, and Jesus comments on Peter’s “lack of faith,” a stunning premonition of the deficit that will cause Peter to deny knowing Jesus when fear will once again overtake him.
No person seeks out difficult times in some kind of masochistic fashion, but it does seem as though difficult times, while testing us, can predispose us to be ready to put our hope in a loving God. So often when we feel that the waves of a difficult world are ready to overwhelm us we need to reach out for the hand of Jesus that steadies us and raises us up. When we are inclined to be looking for God in all the wrong places, sometimes if we stop looking we find that God closer to us than we ever thought possible. As with the Savior we are pledged to follow there will be crosses in life, and some of them may truly seem overwhelming. While the hurricanes and earthquakes of life demand our attention, sometimes life demands a pause that allows us to sense in the whispering breeze the presence of God. If we are too caught up with the ephemeral we will fail to see the closeness of God to those who fear Him. Hidden within the smallest act of kindness, behind the smile of the most unexpected person, the favor done out of genuine love – God is present.
We said that there is no explanation given for why Jesus chose to walk across the lake to be present to His disciples, nor is there a reason for God’s passing by Elijah’s cave. Yet there is a reason – it is on account of God’s love, a love that reaches out to keep us from falling beneath the waters, a love which confirms that no matter how tough things are God is with us. If we don’t sense His presence or His love for us, the fault does not lie with God. We need to stop and look and prayerfully listen, and we will see just how close our God is to us.