19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
"Our role as prophet ..."
Entrance Antiphon: Ps 74(73):20, 19, 22,23 – “Look to Your covenant, O Lord, and forget not the life of Your poor ones for ever. Arise, O God, and defend Your cause, and forget not the cries of those who seek You.”
First Reading: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a – “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 85: 9, 10, 11-12, 13-14 – “Lord, let us see Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation.”
Second Reading: Rom 9:1-5 – “I could wish that I were accursed for the sake of my own people.”
Alleluia: Ps 130:5 – Alleluia, alleluia “I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for His word.” Alleluia, alleluia
Gospel: Mt 14:22-33 – “Command me to come to You on the water.”
Communion Antiphon: Ps 147:12, 14 – “O Jerusalem, glorify the Lord, who gives you your fill of finest wheat.”
The coach of the Pineville High Cougars baseball team enlisted Rusty McDowell, then only a promising freshman, to pitch for the varsity team in the final, three-out-of-five-game showdown with the archrival Valley Ridge Lions. The Lions had taken State tournament the past 10 years in a row. In the first game, Rusty throws a no-hitter. Bad weather creates a several-day interim, so Rusty pitches the second game. Another no-hitter – and then a third! Pineville goes nuts! Rusty gets interviews on ESPN, CNN, and Oprah. When it’s all over, Rusty goes home and tells his family, “I’m quitting baseball. I’m no better than anybody.” He goes to his room and mopes for days.
Fictional Rusty McDowell shares similarities with the prophet Elijah – and sometimes us. Today’s first reading is the middle section of a great story. I’m going to try to fill in the before and after.
And so previously in “The First Book of Kings ...” Elijah was commissioned to be God’s spokesperson, or prophet, a difficult job, thanks to King Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel and his welcoming of pagan worship. Elijah calls a showdown: 450 prophets of the pagan god Baal versus himself and God. Whichever god sent fire to ignite a sacrifice would be the real thing. Elijah even thoroughly drenches his firewood! The pagan prophets knock themselves out with ritual dancing and chanting. Nothing happens. Then it’s Elijah’s turn. He prays, and suddenly: Lightning! Ignition! Consumption! Against 450-1 odds, God and Elijah win! The people go wild, acknowledge God as the only true God, and get rid of the pagan prophets. An astounding victory, right! Even more astounding, Elijah doesn’t trust it! In spite of Elijah’s astounding victory over the prophets of Baal, he loses faith in his mission and in God’s protection, just as we sometimes become timid in fulfilling our own prophetic role. When he hears that Jezebel is vowing revenge, he goes to the desert and asks God to take his life because he’s a terrible prophet – a pity party gone rampant. He ends up in a cave on Mount Horeb (Sinai), the scene of our First Reading today. He finds God not in special effects, but in a tiny whispering sound, which asks him what he’s doing here.
And then we have what’s next in “The First Book of Kings ...” Elijah launches into melodrama. “I’ve been working my heart out,” he whines, “and all for nothing. I’m the only believer left [not even close to true!] and the bad guys are out to kill even poor me.” God listens – but gives Elijah more assignments. One of them, however, is to anoint a successor.
Great story, right? And this has to do with us ... how? Well, believe it or not, we have a whole church full of prophets right here, right now. The essential meaning of prophet is not a predictor of the future but a spokesperson on behalf of God. Each of us is called to be a prophet just as really as Elijah was. It’s not simply a sweet, uplifting, religious idea – it’s a reality. Each of us is called to live the role.
We speak on behalf of God in many ways:
guiding our children and our grandchildren in the faith,
through our actions and example, what we say, what we do, how we act ... including our presence in church today,
through respecting others and dealing with them fairly,
through generosity to the less fortunate,
through not joining in bigoted conversation that disrespects people of different races, religions, or cultures,
through accepting bad breaks, the infirmities of sickness or injury, and the limitations of aging.
And like Elijah, we sometimes expect our mission to go smoothly and feel a little (or very) sorry for ourselves when it doesn’t. Or perhaps we lose track of God’s past support and lack the full confidence that God will have our backs in the work to come.
Being a prophet, both in biblical times and in our own, is not for sissies. The secret of being a good prophet is to give it our best effort, to stay in touch with God, and to accept what happens. God communicates with us still. But the thing is … we must trust this as much as believe it. Prayer is a primary way, but we must also have silence to give God a chance to speak. Listening is vital in prayer. What does God want to tell us? It might be through a line of Scripture or a prayer or a song at Mass. It could be the comment of an innocent child. It might be the insight of a spouse. Prayer isn’t all about words, words, and more words. When you say your daily prayers … and I know that I’m assuming a lot when I say that … when you say your “Our Father” or your “Hail Mary” or your rosary or when you storm the heavens with some other request … do you also just sit back and abide with God and wait for His answer? Believe it or not, listening is as almost important in prayer as the actual words are. We hear what God wants to say to us. Remember that our time is not God’s time. God doesn’t waltz into a Walgreens or Target ... CVS or Staples in December to get a new calendar. And maybe God’s answer isn’t the one we want. We must be patient and accepting. And unfortunately, this is especially hard for most Americans to do. Most importantly, we must TRUST that God hears our prayer and that God knows and desires what is best for us.