Homily: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
I couldn’t help but think of poor, devastated Beirut as I reflected on today’s first reading concerning the Prophet Elijah.
“There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks… After the wind came an earthquake… And after the earthquake came fire.”
The massive explosion that ripped apart that great and ancient city was simply quite shocking to see, even in the midst of the ‘shock and awe’ restrictions that have descended upon our city this past week. The vision of the mushroom cloud that umbrellaed Beirut on Tuesday was like a macabre foretaste of the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing commemorated on Thursday. Wind, earthquake, fire. And devastation.
Elijah had fled to Horeb, the Mountain of God, because of a different kind of devastation: the self-inflicted desolation of God’s People. The Israelites had collectively abandoned the Lord with them and had instead taken up company with the ‘new gods’ of their day. A terrible drought had befallen the land, as righteous punishment from God, which matched the ruinous pride that had befallen the people. Pursued by bloodthirsty enemies and seemingly deserted by God, Elijah, the last of the Lord’s faithful servants, had fled for his life into the mountainous north, to hide away. It was there that the Lord came to meet him.
Wind and earthquake and fire had previously been signs to the people of their God of awe and wonder, over and against other gods. In the manifest power of these natural occurrences, the people saw the might of their God. But such dominating images had not held them in a personal relationship with God. Elijah knew this. He remained in the cave as the devastation passed by, only coming forth, wrapped in his cloak, to meet the Lord in the embrace of a gentle breeze. From destruction to calm. From might to tenderness. From death to life.
Into the destruction of a storm, Jesus strode out on the waters to meet his terrified disciples. “Courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” Are not these precisely the words of calm, tenderness and life we long to hear amid the storm that is overwhelming our lives at present? The numbers of dead and infected grow daily, with the elderly and front-liners most exposed to the brunt of the COVID winds. The earthquake of unemployment and the loss of livelihoods has broken down our protective walls. We are fatigued and frightened as the fire of the virus burns on. And like Elijah on the mountain and the disciples on the lake, we are feeling alone and abandoned, knowing that the rest of the country is finding a way towards safety.
And so, we cry out, “Lord, save me!”
After the wind and earthquake and fire, there will be a gentle breeze. From the midst of the storm there will emerge hope. This is the Lord’s promise. The Lord is with you; he is present among you. Whatever mighty power is thrown at us, God will not abandon us, even as our faith is shaken to the core. Jesus put out his hand at once and held his friend; so now he is reaching out to us.