its a breeze!

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A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak

That above quote always amazes me. Not in the banging of a drum, or the clash of a cymbal, or the angry rhetoric of a politician, or from a red-faced man atop a pulpit, or a scalding editorial published, or a whaling songstress singing, or a crowd chanting, or fists flying; there the LORD was not seen. But a refreshing breeze. A refreshing breeze in a desert? A refreshing breeze in a desert, after a drought? A refreshing Breese in a desert, after a long drought, after hiding in a cave, hiding from persecution? That is where the LORD was revealed? How refreshing! Who would ever suspected? Brilliant! Speechless!

1 Kgs 18:41-46

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

Mt 5:20-26

 

 

 

Elijah’s victory dance

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Elijah is not politically correct, he does not shake hands with the evil king. There is no sportsmanship, no gentleman’s handshake after the contest of the Gods. Elijah makes certain Ahab knows who the true God is, and he makes sure he knows which God is responsible for the rain. No sympathy is shown. Ahab’s defeat is humiliating, and that is the first step in being humble. Jesus mentions the humble, but that is hundreds of years later. The point is that Elijah wanted all involved to know that worshiping a false God is an abomination. This is weighty matter. It is a criminal offense, and leads to spiritual and mortal death. Elijah has the prophets of Baal executed. Serious stuff, so different from our world of relativism. Our grayed down politically correct fantasy. Enough.1 Kgs 18:41-46

Jesus in his lecture to the disciples makes sure his disciples understand his is not a liberal gospel. His is not a legal interpretation of law, but a moral one. While eloquent speech might convince an elder of a guilty person’s innocence, the divine does not barter. It is not what I can do, and what can I get away with. It is what is right. What is correct. What is righteous? What one can get away with in a courtroom, one cannot get away with in heaven.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

Why, I wonder, did the Christ give this talk? Mt 5:20-26 I think it might be due to His shift in authority in the enforcement of The Law. God’s law then, unlike now, was enforced in court. With Jesus though obedience to The Law was between man and God. Think of the criminal offenses He committed. Eating without ritual washing, Gleaning wheat on the Sabbath and healing on the same day. Criminal offenses of the day, but not in the eyes of the divine. Certainly what he taught the disciples regarding the law had shifted from the traditional practices of the day, and with that there was the danger of misinterpretation. There was the danger the disciples could turn into careless liberals doing whatever they please. Today’s gospel reminds them their responsibility increased rather than diminished.

I used the term “liberals” which has a political connotation. With the letter of the law loosing importance over its spirit, the disciples could have let liberal interpretations drift into ignorance and abandonment. It would certainly have been easy for them to adopt a devil-may-care attitude, but certainly Jesus knew to be on the lookout. To today’s political enthusiast one might see this as a warning against liberalism as we know it, but things are about to make a turn. Regarding The Law, Jesus did not turn against the liberal, His argument was against the conservative. It was against the traditionalist, and even the fundamentalist. Both Liberalism and Conservatism are a far cry from Righteousness. Come Holy Spirit.

A victory for Elijah

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Elijah enters into his final confrontation with Ahab, they and the people ascend Mount Carmel for the battle of the God’s. It’s a showdown between Ahab and Elijah, Baal and the one true God. A contest is announced and all agree to the rules. Two altars are to be erected, and two calves slaughtered, wood placed atop the altar and sacrifice atop the wood. The God that provides the fire is the designated victor. All agree and the prophets of Baal are up first. Sacrifice prepared, prophets call out, scream and command. Their god is a no-show. The ritual turns bloody, the calls louder but to no avail; they fail to ignite the fire. Taunted and prompted by Elijah, the only thing ablaze was their anger.

Next, comes Elijah. Twelve altar stones for the twelve tribes. Certainly the people recall those tribes led by their God, led from the slavery of Egypt. Water poured three times, the ritual of purification, the crossing of the sea and the river Jordan. Then a prayer, not a rant or a show, but a prayer that talked to God in a familiar way. It was not anger ablaze, but hearts; and to a heart a True God always listens. The flames appear, so similar to the flames of Pentecost. With that the people return to their God, a God that never deserted them.1 Kgs 18:20-39

R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
They multiply their sorrows
who court other gods.
Blood libations to them I will not pour out,
nor will I take their names upon my lips.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope. Ps 16

In the gospel Jesus says that He does not come to abandon the law, but to fulfill it. Certainly the people were familiar with the law, but maybe they saw it as ritual. Programmed chants and gyrations devoid of emotion. Manipulated and corrupted and profaned by the likes of Ahab. They became laws that lacked passion. Jesus did not come to abandon the law but to fulfill it, just as He said. His was not so much about the letter of the law, but about the author. It was a change in perspective, away from man and back to God. His was not the fear of enforcement, but a zeal for compliance, and that compliance came with an understanding that the law was a benefit and not a curse. They guided one to a rich pasture and not bankruptcy. The law was for the person’s benefit and not their detriment. A benefit for those that followed, and not those that enforced. Not written on a tablet, or in a scroll; but in a heart. With the laws there the Holy Spirit can descend with tongues of fire, just as on Elijah’s altar.Mt 5:17-19 The flames appear, so similar to the flames of Pentecost.

Elijah’s on the run.

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Elijah is on the run again.1 Kgs 17:7-16 Ahab attacks with a vengeance driving the prophet further from his home. Tired, he stumbles upon the hut of a woman and her son. Hungry from his journey, he asks her for a cup of water and some bread. Short on food, she at first refuses. Elijah convinces her to comply with his request.

She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives,
I have nothing baked;
there is only a handful of flour in my jar
and a little oil in my jug.
Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks,
to go in and prepare something for myself and my son;
when we have eaten it, we shall die.”

Read her refusal carefully, in particular one phrase. “As the LORD your God Lives.” Your God, Elijah’s God and not hers. Elijah has wandered far from his land, yet “His God” still travels with him. That God is not constrained by borders. As I think of Elijah wandering throughout the areas surrounding Ahab’s kingdom to escape his wrath, I think of the Son of God traveling to the same periphery trying to bring the lost sheep back. Many of those lost were victims of Kings such as Ahab. The thing though is that Jesus did not care to bring those souls back to the borders of the Jewish Kingdom of Judea. That border did no constrain God, the LORD reached people wherever they be. God resided within them.

In Elijah’s adventure he told the woman of Gods promise, and she accepted that word on faith. She prepared the bread, and ran out of neither flour, nor oil. Jesus calls his disciples the salt of the earth and tells them not to lose that quality.Mt 5:13-16 He calls them to be the light of the world, a guiding light for the nations. They were to be known by their actions, and not by their nationality. Their God was with them, wherever they might reside. The only thing that could distance themselves from their God was their actions, their sins, and should they stumble theirs was a forgiving God. In fact, being the salt of the earth was an entry into a new covenant relationship, a salt covenant* was indeed a form of covenant at that era. What might the words of that new covenant be, what might make those fledgling disciples the salt of the earth? I can take a guess. Love the Lord with your whole heart, wherever you might be; and do unto others as I (Jesus) have done for you. Covenants need not be wordy or complex.

*The salt of the covenant with your God: partaking of salt in common was an ancient symbol of friendship and alliance.

You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not let the salt of the covenant with your God* be lacking from your grain offering. On every offering you shall offer salt. (Leviticus 2:13).

As a perpetual due I assign to you and to your sons and daughters with you all the contributions of holy things which the Israelites set aside for the LORD; this is a covenant of salt* to last forever before the LORD, for you and for your descendants with you. .(Numbers 18:19)

Do you not know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given David kingship over Israel forever, to him and to his sons, by a covenant of salt?(2Chronicles 13:5)

Wandering through the tenth Monday of ordinary time

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Today the prophet Elijah again 1 Kgs 17:1-6 enters into the story, and an understanding of Jesus can be gleaned  through Elijah. Elijah was the prophet that preached a kingdoms return to the God of the covenant. The king of Israel and his pagan wife Jezebel had promoted the worship of a pagan god, Baal. Elijah was a fierce opponent of Ahab and spent his days preaching a return to the God of the Israelites. He preached that they cease offering sacrifice to Beelzebub, and stop erecting altars to that pagan deity. Elijah’s constant preaching attracted much anger from the royal couple, and the true God told him to hide at the Wadi Cherith. A wadi is a valley or ravine. Now to the gospel.

In the gospel reading Mt 5:1-12 Jesus spots the crowds that had been following him, and he then goes to a top of a mountain. At that mountaintop Jesus delivers the beatitudes to his disciples. The beatitudes are a famous series of blessings that Jesus bestows on those disciples. The blessings are remarkable because they are given to an assembly of people who might never had been blessed in that ancient world before. Many were marginalized members of society, downtrodden, poor, and fearful of authorities. The attributes of those people who received the blessings were not the type of things the ancient world held in high esteem. When Jesus offered the Beatitudes, many might have said “but why?”

These are two stories that invite comparison. Elijah’s flight from evil, and the disciple’s ascent towards the good news of Jesus Christ. Both Elijah, and those disciples had other options. Elijah could have been obedient to the evil earthly King, and in doing so probably would have lived in comfort. He could have behaved like everyone else, but he did not. He made a decision to follow the true God despite the challenges it placed before him. In his retreat from the evil king, he marched toward God. The Disciples of Christ did the same, they went against the customs of the day and took a risk. They followed Jesus up a mountain. They actively pursued the Truth, they took a risk and were blessed.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted… .”

Drift now towards a commentary on today. We too have earthly kings, we too live in a society of changing, challenging, customs and rules and expectations. If one is to listen to society, does one hear a faithfulness to God? Does one see a society that embraces the commandments of a true God, or has society created its own set of rules? Has a true God been replaced with something of our own liking? How different is our society from that of Ahab and Jezebel, one blatantly unfaithful the covenant? What does our society embrace and promote; and what does our God tell us ? God blesses one thing, and man another. Which direction then do we go? What are we willing to endure to pursue a truth? It seems we are given the same choice as Elijah and Jesus’s Disciples, who do we listen to and where do we turn? It seems that those disciples, like Elijah, had a choice. They had the opportunity for both a blessing and a curse, depending on their own actions.

Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time