Monthly Archives: August 2015

Elijah On the Run

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?

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: B Elijah, Prophet on the Run

 

For the past few weeks the Old Testament readings at Mass on Sunday from the Book of Exodus have focused on the journey the whole Israelite community made through the desert after being freed by God from enslavement in Egypt. Today, the Old Testament reading at Mass from the Book of Kings recalls the journey of one man, the Prophet Elijah, who fled from the wicked King Ahab and his notorious wife Jezebel.

The Book of Exodus reminds us that God is with us as a people making our way to the Kingdom. The Book of Kings, as it tells the story of Elijah, reminds us that God’s with us individually as we make our personal journey through life.

Elijah is one of the greatest and most powerful of the prophets. He raises people from the dead and brings fire down from heaven on his enemies. He causes the rain to stop in punishment for unbelief. At the time of Jesus people wondered if Jesus weren’t Elijah appearing again. When Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, Moses and Elijah, two great figures from the Old Testament, appear at his side.

Yet, Elijah leaves no writings, as most of the prophets do, which means we know him mainly from the life he leads.

According to the Book of Kings, Elijah spends most of his life fleeing from Ahab and his wife Jezebel, his mortal enemies. They follow him from water hole to water hole as he flees south from northern Israel. He has to hide in mountain caves and isolated wadis in the desert, with scarcely enough to eat. Elijah may be a powerful prophet, but most of time he’s a prophet on the run.

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; the king and his all his followers are after him. He scrounges for food, even relying on a poor widow with almost nothing of her own. He wishes God would end it all.

The powerful prophet is helpless. He’s living through a drought that God alone can lift. He needs food that God alone can give. He has to wait for God alone 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, or in a poor widow whom most would say is useless.

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 that true? Isn’t Elijah on the run 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 ended his life a rejected, helpless prophet, yet God raised him up in power.

Elijah invites us to learn from the journey we make, particularly from our experiences of weakness and death. We learn to see through the mystery of the cross. We gain the greatest wisdom through this mystery. What wisdom is better than the wisdom that sees God’s power in a tiny cloud, the slight whisper of a breeze, the helplessness of the poor? That’s a wisdom our times can use.

18th Sunday B: Manna and the Bread of Life

For an audio of the homily see below:

In the Old Testament, manna plays a big role in Israel’s journey through the desert to the Promised Land. According to the Book of Exodus, only one month after they left Egypt, the Israelites began to complain that God had abandoned them. Even though they experienced the mighty deeds of God who freed them from Pharaoh’s enslavement, they were sure they were going to starve in the desert. Why did we leave Egypt anyway, they say? Why not go back?

Manna was the food God gave them to remind them he was with them and keep them going on their hard journey to the Promised Land. “They ate the manna for forty years’ until they came to settled land; they ate the manna until they came to the borders of Canaan.” (Exodus 16, 35) Manna was such an important part of their experience that Moses told Aaron to take a jar and fill it with manna, so that future generations would remember the Lord’s goodness. (Exodus 16,33)

Some say manna was a natural food that’s still found in the Sinai desert, a honey-like resin from the tamarisk tree, and so that would mean, perhaps, the Jews discovered it on their own. Wherever it came from, whether they found it or received it from divine hands, the Jews saw manna as bread from heaven. At every celebration of Passover afterwards, they took bread and gave thanks to God, who fed his people. At the Last Supper, Jesus also took bread and wine, gave thanks and gave them to his disciples as his body and blood. He is the true Bread come down from heaven.

The manna in the desert has important lessons for us. First of all, it’s a sign of God’s providence, a providence that’s steady and sure. God doesn’t send us on the journey of life and leave us on our own. God doesn’t help us once and then abandon us to our own resources. However uncertain the times are, however uneasy the circumstances we face–the journey’s through the desert, remember– God is with us. Manna will be there, sometimes we have to discover it, its not always obvious, sometimes it’s a complete surprise.

The manna was a daily gift. That’s another life-lesson it teaches us. “Give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus says in the prayer he taught. That’s manna he’s telling us to pray for. Each day we’re to turn to God with empty hands and look for everything we need. “Daily bread is the bread of everything,” St. Augustine said.

Some of the Israelites, according to the Old Testament story, try to hoard the manna so that they don’t have to look for it each day. They want to be free from any obligation to God and be on their own. The manna that’s hoarded mysteriously spoils and becomes rotten, according to the Old Testament story. Moses forbade hoarding the manna, because it was another way of making ourselves above God and not needing him.

In John’s gospel, Jesus seems to accuse the crowd who come to him looking for bread of just this sort of attitude.

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
you are looking for me not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life.

You wonder today as people abandon the practice of daily prayer and going to church if we are not seeing this story being lived out in our time. “You can do anything yourself, if you want.” “You don’t need anyone but yourself.” “Your life is yours to live, it’s up to you.”

Fine words, but are they true. We are on a journey through a desert. We need manna for the journey. We need Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.