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19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 9, 2017
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 13, 2017
First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Responsorial Psalm: 85:9,10, 11-12, 13-14
Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33
Some spooky and scary scripture passages for our hearing this week!
 After being threatened with a death sentence by Jezebel for his slaying of the prophets of Baal, Elijah runs in fear for his life and ends up sent on a journey to Horeb (Sinai). Our lectionary passage picks up at his arrival at the mountain of God, yet omits the question Elijah receives from God when he arrives: What are you doing here? (19:9b). Clearly, he is not where he was supposed to be-back in the fray, following his prophetic call, not running from it. God then directs him to stand on the mountain. And the frightening, earth-moving sound and light show begins. The sounds of howling winds, crushing rocks, rumblings of the earth and the blaze of fire were all known as manifestations of God's power. Zealous Elijah, wondering whether the Lord was passing by with judgment or with the promise of freedom, no doubt trembled in fear. Yet, he does not find God in the display of power; rather he discerns the presence of God in the "tiny whispering sound." Some versions render this interesting Hebrew phrase as the "sound of sheer silence" (NRSV).
Elijah was bombarded with sound and light--where we too might often expect to see God in the extraordinary. But it was by still listening, by still paying close attention, in shutting out the sound and light show and rather savoring the silence, the murmur, and contemplating the simplicity, that Elijah recognizes God is present. It is important to note what follows the passage we hear proclaimed. God speaks again: What are you doing here? And Elijah does not remain enraptured on the mountain: God sends him out to his prophetic ministry (1 Kings 19:15-16).
A spectral scene, one also fraught with peril, unfolds in the gospel text on the chaotic nighttime Sea of Galilee. While Jesus is off praying, the disciples are sent ahead and find themselves soon being storm-tossed at night in their boat. Finally, in the very early morning, Jesus comes to them. Not with might, not to still the storm here, but to tell them to take courage in the midst of danger and to calm their fear as they tossed in the turbulent waters. This haunting figure brings comfort in the midst of turbulence, a promise that they might come to some safe harbor.  Peter seems to have found that out the hard way. The churning waters did not cease, but his distress is met by Jesus's hand reaching out to pull him up in the midst of crashing water and bring him back to their battered boat.
While we too simply say that if you have more faith you won't sink, it may be important to recognize that the storm did not cease and it probably will come back. Many of us face various storms in our lives as we chart our battered boats ahead. Many of want to run like Elijah, only to find God in ways we may not have expected. Yet in that encounter with Divine Presence we find calm and courage to move forward in the midst of and through the next storm to come. Sometimes, we may need to summon a lifeboat; we may need to be haunted again. But such is the journey of our daily lives: reaching out each day to Christ to pull us back into our boats once again.
We should also remember that there are still others who don't make it: many are truly running for their lives and sink. In 2013, Pope Francis travelled to Lampedusa, a small island off the coast of Sicily, often the first harbor for migrants and refugees coming through North Africa. Their lives are in peril, and the voyage across is perilous too. Scores drown after their boats capsize, and they are left to cling the boats or to the fishing nets as they struggle to survive. In Lampedusa, there is a "cemetery of boats," the wreckage gathered to mark the deaths of so many. In the Mass to remember these lost, Pope Francis celebrated at an altar that was constructed from the remnants of these refugee boats. The church of Lampedusa proclaimed in word and sacrament the continued presence of Christ by holding close the specters of those lost.
From the scary and spooky we hear today comes a summons: a call to courageous discipleship and to prophetic action. This call emanates from an encounter--maybe on a mountain like Elijah, maybe in storm-tossed waters like the disciples, maybe from our streets each day, maybe from a profound silence, a haunting encounter, or the memory of those lost along the way. It can be answered by our willingness to move forward in promise to be the hand stretched out to pull up those who call out to us on this treacherous journey. Indeed, Lord, save us!
Associate Professor of Liturgy