Scripture reflections – Sunday, August 7th

1Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Rom 9: 1- 5; Mt 14:22-33

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.”  The first reading from the book of Kings which describes the prophet Elijah’s encounter with God is one of the great reflections in the Old Testament on prayer.

If you read Chapters 18 and 19 in their entirety you’ll see that things aren’t going well for the prophet Elijah.  He is the only prophet left in all of Israel who speaks on behalf of Yahweh – everyone else has sold out under pressure from the pagan queen and her waffling husband.  As far as king Ahab is concerned, all would be well if Elijah would just shut up, but for queen Jezebel, it’s personal.  She wants him dead.

Even a man of God has his limits.  Elijah is ready to die – he begs God to kill him, actually – and that’s when God intervenes.  First, to satisfy Elijah’s bodily needs. Then, as today’s reading begins, his spiritual needs.  Elijah is invited by God on a certain day to meet and talk.  The reading tells us that there is a rapid succession of  overwhelming natural phenomena – earthquake, fire, wind – but no God.  It is in the quiet whisper that God speaks. And Elijah gets what he needs.

Which is not to say, of course, that God is not capable of the big show.  Jesus shows this in the gospel – in the middle of the raging storm, there he is walking upon the sea.  He invites Peter out to walk with him – and he almost does it – until he realizes what he is doing isn’t humanly possible.

What do these two readings have in common?  They remind us that no storm contains God or is bigger than God.  No storm – natural, emotional, physical, mental or spiritual.  When we are caught up in any calamity, Christ will be there, right smack in the middle.  We have only to sit still a moment and listen for the still, small voice.

Debts are climbing.  Economies are falling.  Thousands die each day from natural or man-made catastrophes.   No compassionate thinking person can be left unscathed by all of this.

But listen closely – can you hear it?  The still, small whisper that says, “Be not afraid”.  Can you see them?  The loving, firm hands that reach out to each one of us and invite us to step out of the boat that is our paralyzing fears and walk into the midst of the storm where Jesus is.  There is the freedom and peace and security that is our divine birthright.

So don’t look down.  Or up, even.  Just straight ahead.  Be not afraid.

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)

(You can purchase book-length collections of my reflections on the scriptures at www.twentythirdpublications.com)

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