19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached August 13, 2017; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration, when Jesus was revealed on the mountain top with light of God’s glory shining forth from his face, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit’s cloud of glory, and with the voice of the Father declaring, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to him.

Today’s Gospel harmonizes with what we heard last Sunday, when after Jesus enters the boat, the disciples prostrate themselves in homage before him, declaring, Truly, you are the Son of God.

In the Gospel of the Transfiguration, two figures from the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, also appear bearing witness to Jesus. Those two sum up in their persons the whole of the Old Testament, with Moses representing the Law and Elijah the prophets.

We are familiar with Moses as the mediator of the old covenant, the servant of God who led the people of slavery out of Egypt and guided them for forty years in the desert. Elijah, about whom we also hear in today’s 1st reading and to whom St. John the Baptist is likened, is someone we should know more about.

We need some context. The kingdom of Israel was firmly established during the reigns of David and his son, Solomon. David was a mighty warrior who not only delivered Israel from the neighboring kingdoms, but even extended Israel’s power over foreign nations. Solomon consolidated Israel’s power and built the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet in his old age, Solomon turned away from God and the kingdom was divided after his death. The descendants of David ruled over the smaller Kingdom of Judah, in the south, centered upon the Temple in Jerusalem, while other kings ruled over the more powerful Kingdom of Israel in the north. Separated from the Temple in Jerusalem, the kings and people of the Kingdom of Israel also more easily strayed from the covenant. During this time prophets arose calling the people back to fidelity to the covenant; Elijah stands at the beginning of a line of prophets in the Kingdom of Israel.

Elijah appears out of nowhere in the northern Kingdom during the reign of Ahab, the husband of the foreign princess Jezebel, who had been leading the people into idolatry. He appears as a rather fiery figure calling king and people back to fidelity to the Lord. He announces a drought of three years and he shows forth the power of God on Mt. Carmel in a sort of duel of prayer in which he vanquishes the prophets of Baal. But, then, instead of renewing the worship of God, he finds himself defeated and fleeing for his life from Jezebel. That is the journey that leads him out into the desert to Horeb, the mountain on which God had revealed himself to Moses.

Although the more dramatic moments of Elijah’s life had gone before, what happens at Horeb is the supreme and decisive moment in his life. Here God speaks to him in a tiny whispering sound.

Today’s reading leaves us with that and does not tell us the content of the communication from God. The content is important: God sends Elijah back to Israel with renewed strength and hope to complete his mission, a mission that will continue after his death through his successor, Elisha. God shows Elijah that despite the corruption of the life of Israel, he has not abandoned his people and that he is still at work in their midst. Henceforth, Elijah’s work will not be like the, the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, but will be like the tiny whispering sound, a slow and patient work, carried on more quietly, that will bear lasting fruit over time.

Let’s sum this up: Elijah was doing God’s will the best he knew how; he met with failure and discouragement because of the seemingly intractable corruption in the life of the people of God; he goes in search of God in the place where God had revealed himself when he established the covenant; there his hope and strength is renewed so that he is able to take up his mission anew, doing God’s will in a more perfect fashion; he is no longer ‘results oriented’ as we are today, but has learned to work with patience. The tiny whispering sound didn’t really tell Elijah anything he didn’t already know so much as it taught him simply to do God’s will because it is God’s will. That focus on the will of God is what gave him strength and hope amidst such widespread corruption. The secret of the tiny whispering sound is that in this life the surest way to intimate union with God is found simply in doing his will.

This harmonizes with what Moses had told the people, The command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out? Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out? No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out. (Dt 30:11-14)

The word is already in our mouths and in our hearts, but our minds are elsewhere, chasing distractions in the sky or across the sea. The word is in our hearts, but we are not in our own heart because we are unable to abide in silence in the presence of God. The word is in our hearts because it is already something we have learned and know, it is something that is actually very obvious– right in front of our eyes as we say, but we have become blind – we have let the rare and exciting distract us from the obvious. The word is in our hearts, but we do not want to do it, because it seems too simple and mundane, because it demands patience rather than promising instantaneous results.

In order to hear that word in the heart, as a tiny whispering sound, Elijah had to flee from all the noise and confusion of the world, he had to flee from the distraction, and go out into the desert to the mountain of God. Even then he had to learn that the

Lord was not in the wind, in the earthquake, or in the fire, before he could actually hear the tiny whispering sound of the Holy Spirit speaking in his heart.

The Psalmist learned to listen to this voice when he said, I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me: for he will speak peace unto his people: And unto his saints: and unto them that are converted to the heart. (Ps 85:9, Douay Rheims)

Nevertheless, mysteriously, in order to enter anew into our own heart, we must like Elijah learn to journey through the desert to the Mountain of God, the mountain where God appeared to Moses, the Mountain where God spoke to Elijah; it is the same mountain that Jesus himself ascends to pray; it is the mountain upon which Moses and Elijah bear witness to Jesus in his transfigured glory; it is indeed the same as the symbolic ‘mountain’ upon which the sacrifice of the Mass is offered. Indeed, the Mountain is Christ himself (cf. Collect for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16), true God and true man. As man he himself climbs the mountain to his union with God, as God he comes down the mountain and walks upon the waves and calms the storm.

Elijah’s 1st victory over the prophets of Baal took place on a mountain as well, Mt. Carmel. One of the titles of the Virgin Mary is “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel”. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel gave rise to Carmelite religious order that has produced saints like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Therese of Lisieux; it has also given rise to the devotion of the brown scapular, the scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. On October 13, 1917, during the miracle of the sun, Lucia dos Santos, one of the seers, who would later become a Carmelite herself, saw Our Lady of Mt. Carmel standing next to the sun. What is so important about Our Lady of Mr. Carmel?

Well, after vanquishing the prophets of Baal, Elijah bowed down and prayed for an end to the drought. In answer to his prayer a cloud, starting out the size of a man’s hand rose from the sea, then swelled into a great storm by the time in broke upon the land so that Mt. Carmel became the first spot to receive the life-giving rain. The cloud that arises from the sea without the weight and salinity of the waters represents the Virgin Mary, born from sinful humanity without the stain of sin, and the mountain again is Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, from whose fullness we have all received. The Virgin Mary would guide us out into the desert to the mountain of God, and teach us to hear the tiny whispering voice speaking in our heart.

 

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.