19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Aug. 9, 2015
1 Kgs 19: 4-8
Ursulines, Willow Dr.
“Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert…” (1 Kgs 19: 4).
Superficially, we could observe that Elijah prepared very poorly for his hike into the wilderness. If you do that today—and it happens regularly in the White Mountains and other wilderness areas—and search and rescue has to go find you, you’ll probably get a big, fat bill from the local or federal government. But there’s no record of the angel’s having left an invoice with Elijah’s bread and water.
|Elijah calling down the Lord's fire on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18)|
More seriously, Elijah has fled in haste from Queen Jezebel, whose 400 prophets of Baal he’s just slain on Mt. Carmel (ch. 18). As he says after reaching Mt. Horeb, he’s been “most zealous for the Lord” (19:10). He’s the prototypical fanatic of an OT prophet, but his zeal has won him the vengeful enmity of the rulers of Israel.
When we take a stand for the Lord, when we’re truly committed to him—even without our trying to slay the Lord’s perceived enemies—we’ll make enemies of our own and run into obstacles. So we must expect opposition when we try to do good, practice virtue, live out our commitment to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Jesus ben Sirach cautions us, “When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity” (Sir 2:1-2). Satan never rests in his opposition to goodness, and unfortunately he finds many allies.
Elijah “prayed for death: … O Lord, take my life” (19:4). Even prophets and saints can get discouraged. So we shouldn’t be surprised that sometimes we do too, whether our discouragement arises from the aforementioned obstacles and opposition, from our own physical or emotional or moral weaknesses, or from our inability to see clearly just what God wants of us. Occasional discouragement is part of being human.
What’s important when Elijah is in this state of dejection—we could almost say of despair—is that he opens his heart to God. We know how he feels because he voices his prayer. I think Elijah has been on intimate terms with the Lord for a long time; I think his story in 1 Kings testifies to that. When we’re close to God, we can tell him everything that’s in our hearts: our joys and sorrows, our fears and hopes, our anger and praise, our sins and virtues. We ought never to be afraid to speak our minds to the One who made us, who loves us, who saves us—and who already knows our thoughts and feelings anyway—but who delights, according to St. Augustine (somewhere in the patristic readings of the Breviary) to hear his children speak those thoughts and feelings. Like Samuel’s mother Hannah (1 Sam 1:9-18), Queen Esther (4 C:12-30), Susanna (Dan 13:42-43), Jeremiah (passim), and the Psalmist, we can pour out to God our woes, fears, desperation, frustration. Jesus himself does that in Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-44 ||). And of course besides complaining or crying to God, we can also praise and thank him for our blessings.
The angel who came to Elijah provided him with food and drink to sustain him on his journey to Horeb, which is another name for Sinai. “Strengthened by that food, he walked 40 days and 40 nites to the mountain of God” (19:8). In the context of today’s liturgy, that food and drink are supposed to remind us of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is truly our sustenance as we journey toward God’s holy mountain—on a long and arduous trek beset with temptations and dangers, a trek that’s wearisome at times, frightsome at times. The Eucharist supplies us with both spiritual strength and courage to get up and continue steadfast on our way.