19th Cycle A

 

The prophet Elijah was a remarkable man and a worker of many miraculous deeds; through him God had raised the dead to life (see 1 Kings 17) and shamed all the ‘pagan’ prophets (1 Kings 18). But he was threatened with death by queen Jezebel and the whole nation seemed to have abandoned their covenant with God. In this disastrous situation for a prophet of God, he was in deep despair and really hoped to end it all by going out into the desert and just lying down to die; but an angel comes and feeds him and tells him to go to mount Horeb (also called Sinai), where Moses had met God and received the Commandments. So, as we read,  he goes and climbs the mountain and his prayer is a complaint to God that things are going very badly for him and he wants only to die. As he sheltered in a cave he expected God to appear in a powerful and dramatic way as He had to Moses, but it turned out that God was in the gentle breeze at the mouth of the cave. And there is a message for readers ever since about where God is to be encountered.

Chapter 9 of Paul’s letter to the Romans marks the beginning of a new thought ( our reading). He has dictated to his scribe all about the immense and wonderful love that God has for us, His chosen ones, shown through the life of Christ, the gift of the Spirit and the expectation of a glorious completion for creation. But then Paul seems to realise that the Jews, the race he belongs to, and in whose traditions he was brought up. – these people were chosen by God, His Son came among them and showed them the way to live for God, yet they have for the most part rejected Jesus and His teaching. Paul feels strongly moved by this thought and, like Jesus, would give his life to bring them into the company of the followers of Jesus’ Way. He starts dictating again with the passage that is the second reading for today. It is a lesson to us of how we should yearn for a better world in conformity to the perfect plan we believe God has for the hole of creation.

The feeding of the multitude of which we read last week, could well have raised people’s hopes that Jesus was going to liberate their country from Roman rule and bring them to salvation in the End of the world event. Jesus wanted to avoid this mistaken impression of him and so rushed the disciples away and off in a boat; and He Himself, to avoid the crowd’s misguided enthusiasm, withdrew from the scene. Even in the early church that Matthew was addressing there could arise this kind of selfish excitement. Then comes the story we hear today; Jesus goes up a mountain though strictly geographically it could only have been a hill; a mountain in the history and understanding of the people of the Bible is the place where you can get close to God. Matthew has already told of the calming of the storm at sea – a sign of God’s power in Christ over the chaos and failures in our world, now he retells it as a sign of the troubles that beset the followers of Jesus, both the disciples and Matthew’s readers. Other gospels have the same story but Matthew adds the incident of walking on water. If God is often seen as the controller of stormy and chaotic waters, then Jesus walking on Galilee’s sea during a storm has a special meaning about him. As in many visions and even post-resurrection appearances it is unclear to the beholders who or what they are seeing. Jesus’ words to the frightened disciples include the name of Yahweh when he says “it is I.” Now there is an example of the nature of Peter, who figures as a leader especially in Matthew’s gospel: Peter is over enthusiastic to the point of rashness, but his keen faith fades, yet is saved when he cries out a prayer in distress; then the storm is calmed and the disciples recognise Jesus as the Son of God. How often we do as keen believers fall short in our faith and need to be saved each time by God?

see Jeffs Jottings – Heed the whisper

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