Days of Elijah

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

December 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we think about John the Baptist. For several days in this middle part of Advent, our Gospel makes reference to John, the Precursor of the Messiah.

411px-Saint_John_The_Baptist_Preaching_In_The_Wilderness_by_Anton_Raphael
John the Baptist by Anton Raphael Mengs – looking a lot better than he probably really looked!!!!

Faithful Jews had an expectation that there would be a Messiah, and that a fiery Precursor would announce him. They identified this forerunner with the prophet Elijah, based on writings like today’s from Sirach:

How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses.
You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD…

800px-Elijah,_a_prophet_and_a_miracle_worker
Elijah, a prophet and a miracle worker, Gračanica monastery

 

In our Gospel, Jesus indicates that John the Baptist is the new Elijah, preparing the way for Jesus’s ministry.

Scripture scholars can get pretty bundled up in trying to explicate the meanings around Elijah and his return. For the purpose of our prayer, I find it helpful to take another approach.

  • What is it in my life that prepares me to receive God in my heart?
  • What inspires me “prepare the way of the Lord” in the worlds that I touch?
  • Do I pay attention to God’s “announcements”, those quiet inklings that tell me God is trying to make something new in my life?

Jesus says that Elijah “has already come” but has been rejected by the people.

  • Are there habits and choices in my life that make it hard for God to get through to me?
  • Maybe God is sending an “Elijah”or “Baptist” my way today. Will I recognize that Precursor? Will I be open to the message?

Music: Days of Elijah – Robin Mark. 

The commentary in the Worship & Song Leader’s Edition contains a good summary of this hymn’s text: “This is a song of victory and of hope, of God’s triumph forever over death and of Christ’s eternal reign. It also calls believers to stand fast, even in the face of troubles, and to witness to the promised coming of Christ.”

 

The Yoke, Indeed, Is On Us!

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 30, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the symbols of yokes and plows shout out across our readings. Again, we are dealing with metaphors not in everyday usage for most of us. But those listening to Elijah, Paul, and Jesus absorbed the symbolism easily.

Gal5_yoke

The yoke has connotations of subservience and toiling; in some ancient cultures it was traditional to force a vanquished enemy to pass beneath a symbolic yoke of Spears or swords.The yoke may be a metaphor for something oppressive or burdensome, such as feudalism or totalitarianism. (Wikipedia)

The writer of Kings has fiery Elijah engaged in one of his several highly dramatic episodes. What a scene, right? But what is the point for us?

The point is the same in all three readings: yoke=commitment. Each of our writers is talking about a further understanding of the word “yoke” —a freely chosen commitment made, by grace, for Love.

Sometimes, as in Kings, we need to break an enslavement in order to commit to something life-giving, such as Elisha’s call to follow Elijah.

Other times, as in Galatians, we must remind ourselves of the freedom and power we have chosen by breaking the old yokes that bound us.

In our Gospel, Jesus acknowledges the cost of a commitment to his Way. He has already told us in Matthew 11:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Today, in Luke, Jesus doubles down on his invitation /challenge to follow him:

No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind
is fit for the kingdom of God.

The question left for our prayer today? Is my heart fully yoked to the heart Christ? Is my hand firmly grasping the plow?

Music: My Yoke is Easy – Dennis Jernigan

Fired by Love

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061318.cfm

Ps 25 6_13_18

Today, in Mercy, when reading the passage about Elijah and the prophets of Baal, I was reminded of the Irving Berlin song, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”. In the reading, Elijah tests and even taunts Baal’s 450 prophets in a contest to prove whose God is true. Of course, Elijah wins in a stunning blast of fire. It is a religious exercise of “eradicate and supplant”.

The Gospel reading carries a similar theme.  Jesus’ followers seem to conclude that, because he is teaching something new, he is nullifying the customary Hebrew teachings. But Jesus says that, to the contrary, He is here to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it.

Religion, like any entrenched practice, tends over time to suffer the ill effects of institutionalization. Our rituals and devotions may become lifeless; our scriptures become rote. The power of our sacraments may be carelessly invoked and distractedly attended. A chasm grows between what we profess and what we live. We may become frozen. Sometimes, it might seem best to set the whole thing aflame and start all over again, like Elijah.

But Jesus challenges to us to go deeper than “practice”. Mere practice can easily become empty. Jesus shows us in his life what a fulfilled faith looks like. It is a faith expressed in service, sacrifice and inclusive mercy. It is a faith that, when brought to the pulpit and altar, carries the lives of those we love and serve. It is a faith, like the Psalmist’s, that listens for God’s direction deep in the experiences of life. It is a faith, not in contradiction to Law, but beyond it. It is a faith fired – transformed – by Love.

Music: Living Spirit, Holy Fire ~ David Haas