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Ordinary Time 19 (A)
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Readings for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1. 1 Kings 19, 9 and 11-13

  • On the surface I hear a story of a hunted man fleeing to sanctuary in a cave.  Then comes the spiritual dimension: The Lord said to him, Go outside and stand on the mountain.  (Now listen to the ending to see what the prophet actually did.)  Our hunted man is a holy man, alert to God’s word.  I don’t hear this dimension in the popular secular epic novels and films of today.
  • What’s going on here?  Some psalms, plus the Pentecost story in Acts, say that strong wind signals the presence of God.  But the Lord was not in the wind.  Then again the memory of Sinai for Israel included the earthquakes and luminous cloud.  But the Lord was not in the earthquake. 
  • What do I make of this old story after three millennia?  Who says that the Lord was not there?  Elijah?  How did he know?  From bitter experience?  Was he finding out then and there?  If so, maybe I should pause briefly after each of the natural phenomena has passed.
  • This is what the passage says: When Elijah heard the tiny, whispering sound, he hid his face.  What’s going on?  Is this the whisper of prayer, the silent inner voice speaking to my soul, to the soul of Elijah?  Is this the God who is absent while the king sacrifices to false gods?  I think I know a bit about the ways of this God.  And those of my listeners who pray in quiet spaces understand this.
  • Climax: It comes in the last sentence.  Elijah hid his face and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.  I cannot build up to it by lifting my voice, because God does not appear in our noise.  But I can lengthen the pauses until silence fills our own assembly and we feel God’s presence that way.
  • Message for our assembly: We all have to develop our inner ears to be alert for God.  God’s ways are not our ways.
  • I will challenge myself: To avoid reading the manifestations of nature as a mere listing of events.  I must go on to interpret them as Israel did.  God prefers silence today.  I will also work on all those fortuitous ‘s’ sounds I hear, so that the assembly will be filled with them: tiny whispering sound, etc.

 

2. Romans 9, 1-5

  • I hear the apostle praying with compassion for his people, the people of Israel.
  • He begins with a few phrases that show his true sentiments.  My conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness that I have great sorrow and constant anguish.  Some of his adversaries may have thought that he had little use for Jews who disagreed with him in debate and did not accept Jesus as Messiah.  Here we discover how deeply he feels. 
  • I hear language almost like that of Jesus when he commanded us to love each other (greater love than this…).  I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people.  Now I don’t think I have to imitate his intensity, but I want the assembly to remember how strongly he felt.  His words are as serious as, for example, the words of people who have known divorce or forced exile.  I will not bury my eyes in the lectionary when I say them.
  • Let me speak the words as if I were his disciple.  Like a Timothy or a Priscilla, I know the real Paul and his vision of unity for all believers.
  • Central point: Listen to the litany of privileges given to the Jews.  Adoption, glory, covenants, giving of the law, worship, promises, patriarchs and from them the Christ.  For the apostle they constitute a badge of honor.  The church reaffirms these today, after centuries of denial and persecution to death.  Let them not be empty words for our assembly, a mere echo of a Vatican dispatch.
  • The message for our assembly: Let us remember where we came from.  Probably all my listeners are, like myself, Gentiles newly come under the covenant.  We will be reminded of this truth again in the weeks to come.
  • I will challenge myself: To echo in my heart and voice the anguish of the apostle and his concern for the children of Israel wherever they are. 
  • And I will speak the final blessing with care.  Paul is not calling Jesus God.  I hear a burst of praise that I often hear today from Middle Easterners or evangelical Christians – and of course in our own liturgy!  Blessed be God forever, Amen.  We are praising God’s great designs, even though we fail to understand them.

 

Gospel. Matthew 14, 22-33

  • As I rehearse the Gospel, let me remember what I heard about Elijah’s encounter with God.  Recall the silent whistling of the breeze around Sinai.
  • He went up on the mountain by himself to pray.  That sounds like Elijah, too.
  • The boat was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.  Heavy wind on a lake sounds like a normal phenomenon to me.  I will paint the scene for my listeners.
  • During the fourth watch of the night.  They have been rowing a very long time!  So I should not rush through that phrase but convey my impression of how hard they were working.  And they were terrified when he came toward them.  I can give a sense of their emotions without histrionics.  It is a ghost, they said.  Even if they guessed wrong, their perceptions matter for me because they reveal to us something about ourselves.
  • He came to them walking on the sea.  Everything about Jesus radiates calm and purposeful silence.  Contrast this with the disciples who cry and fear.  Even Peter saw how strong the wind was, and forgot to take courage.
  • When he got into the boat he chided them: O you of little faith, why did you doubt?  And their response?  Truly you are the Son of God.  So the faith of the disciples has center stage.
  • Under the trappings of a wonder story there lies a deeper truth.  Jesus will not abandon his disciples.  Do I believe this myself?  Does my faith take into account the adverse events that put it to the test?
  • Climax: Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.  Jesus is with us.
  • Message for our assembly: It is not the bad weather or the adversity that counts, even though we talk about it all the time.  What matters most is our commitment to each other no matter how hard the going.
  • I will challenge myself: To bring out the moral of the story, by highlighting the demand of Jesus for confidence and faith.

Word to Eucharist: Do we approach the table today, meeting the Lord, with courage? When have we felt terrified in our lives? Which Christians today feel such terror?  Let us widen the circle and unite with them in their time of tribulation.

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