8-13-2017 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Aug 14, 2017
19th Sunday in OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Our readings today focus on two men of God: the prophet Elijah and the apostle Peter, both men very different, but both of them models for our faith.
The story of Elijah comes to us from 1 Kings—a wonderful collection of stories about the prophet Elijah. The key to understanding Elijah is his name: it literally means "Yahweh is God" (Eliahu). His name perfectly describes him: all that he says and does is focused on God. And this focus determines his thoughts, his words, and his deeds.
An important question for us in the spiritual order is this: who is our God? What is most important in my life? What name defines you? If family is most important, you are a "family man or woman." If money is most important, you are a "money man." If sex is most important, you are a "playboy." If business is most important, a "business man," or politics, a "politician," and so on. Elijah was a "Yahweh’s man," and that guiding principle defined his life.
In today’s reading, Elijah is running from Queen Jezebel (her name means, "Where is Baal?). Elijah arrives at Horeb, Sinai, where Moses received God’s name and the law. Elijah is informed that God was about to pass by. So first comes a "strong and heavy wind," then a powerful earthquake, then a great fire. One might expect that God was present in these impressive and cataclysmic events. But the Lord was not in the wind, and earthquake, and fire.
We can understand this wind, and earthquake, and fire metaphorically as those things in this world that truly impress us: the wealthy billionaire, the powerful politician, the unbeatable athlete, the famous rock star, etc. These are the powers in our society and culture that attract us and impress us. But our reading today says that God was not present in worldly power. So where is God present?
As a man of God, as "Yahweh’s man," Elijah’s eyes and ears are specially tuned to the presence of God. "After the fire, there was a tiny whispering sound. When Elijah heard this, he hid his face in his cloak"—Elijah heard the voice of God through the cacophony of other voices. God’s power is not worldly power. Elijah listens, waits, discerns—and aligns himself with the power of God. In our secular world we need any army of Elijahs to help us hear the voice of God—to steer clear of false gods, to become men and women who hear the tiny voice, and, like Elijah, become men and women of God.
Turning to our Gospel . . . there is an echo of Elijah in our Gospel today—a great storm at sea, powerful winds, turbulent water. Peter and the disciples are in a boat—the bark of Peter, the Church, all of us are in that boat. And just as a person can be defined by what is most important to him or her (e.g., Elijah, a man of God), we can also be defined by our fears. Our fears will oftentimes determine our thoughts and actions.
Here, Peter’s fears show all around him—the storm, the wind, the waves—the dark forces. And these elements can represent all of our fears, whatever they might be. But when we look straight ahead, what do we see? Jesus walking through our fears, all the dark forces, beckoning us forward. Putting aside his fears, Peter gets out of the boat and begins "walking on water" toward Jesus. And as long as he is focused on Jesus, he stays above water.
But when he looks aside, to his fears, his fears overcome him, and he begins to sink—the dark forces pull him under—until he calls out to the Lord and the "hand of the Lord saves him." There is no power greater than Jesus ("Who can separate us from the love of God?")
Two very different individuals in our readings today, Elijah and Peter. Both of them are examples for us: Elijah, the man of Yahweh; and Peter, focused on the Lord. May God help us to be like them, faithful to the Gospel.