Our first readings this week and next are from the Book of Kings–the story of Elijah, the prophet, and his interaction with Ahab the King of Israel and his notorious wife Jesebel.
Elijah is a powerful prophet, one of the greatest of the prophets; he raises people from the dead and brings fire from heaven on his enemies. Yet he leaves no writings, which means we know him mainly from the life he leads.
According to the First Book of Kings, Elijah is on the run most of the time, fleeing from Ahab and his wife in pursuit. We follow him from water hole to water hole, hiding in mountain caves and isolated wadis in the desert, with scarcely enough to eat. Most of our readings for the coming days are about a fleeing prophet.
It’s a difficult, humbling flight. A popular icon of Elijah pictures him hand to his head, wondering if he will make it, as a raven hovers behind him bringing bread for the day. He’s living through a desperate drought that the king and his enemies see him responsible for. He scrounges for food, even relying on a poor widow with almost nothing of her own.
The powerful prophet is helpless. He’s living through a drought, which God alone can lift. He needs food, which God alone can give. He has to wait for God to act.
Yet Elijah learns from this experience. It trains him to see. From experience, the prophet learns to see what others may not see, and so he sees God’s redeeming presence in the far-off tiny cloud that promises rain and the whisper of a wind that says God is here.
In Jesus’ time, people were hoping for a Messiah. Elijah was one type of Messiah some hoped for. He’s closest to the kind of Messiah Jesus was.
Isn’t Elijah in the drought like Jesus in the mystery of his Incarnation and Passion? “He humbled himself, taking on the form of a slave.” That humbling led to death on a cross. He was a rejected prophet, yet God raised him up in power.
Following him into the mystery of his Incarnation and Passion do we also gain a wisdom to see grace in weakness and death? In the small whisper where God can be found?