13th Sunday Ordinary Time – Prophets, Pairs and Yokes

Elijah throwing his mantle on Elisha by Charles Foster, 1873, from Wikimedia

June 30, 2019
1 Kings 19:16b – 19-21

The relationship between the prophets Elijah and Elisha speaks to us as disciples and apostles almost 3,000 years later. To understand it however, we must take a step back from this scene and see how the Lord worked among his people in their day.

By the opening of this chapter (1Kings 19) Elijah has defeated and killed the prophets of the pagan god Baal. This has infuriated Ahaz, the king of Judah, but more intensely his wife Jezebel. Ahaz had repudiated the Lord, worshiped other gods and lived a dissolute life. The royal couple determine to kill Elijah, and he flees to a land outside of Ahaz’s control.

When Elijah feels that the immediate danger has passed, he falls down exhausted and begs God to kill him: “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” ( 1 Kings 19:4)

An angel awakes and feeds him, and after he falls asleep again, he feeds him a second time. After he was strengthened, the angel told him to prepare himself for a journey.

8 He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.  1 Kings 19:8

Mt. Horeb is another name for Mt. Sinai where the Lord first spoke to the shepherd Moses in the Burning Bush (Exodus 3) and where later he gave him the Ten Commandments. It was a place of revelation of the Lord and commitment to Him: 2 The LORD, our God, made a covenant with us at Horeb (Deuteronomy 5:2 (NAB)) The reference 40 is of course, among other instances, the number of years the people wandered in the desert to get to the Promised Land.

When Elijah reaches Horeb he finds a cave and the Lord speaks to him:, “Why are you here, Elijah?” 10 He answered: “I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.” 1 Kings 19:9–10

The Lord does not answer him directly but tells him:

11 Then the LORD said, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake there was fire—but the LORD was not in the fire. 1 Kings 19:11–13

“Passing by” is a technical expression for a king revealing himself to his people as leader. There are still royal processions in monarchies today. They are usually a time for great pageantry and splendor and so it was in the Old Testament and no more so than on Mt. Horeb/Sinai. The Lord spoke to Moses from the Burning Bush and we know of the lightning, thunder and clouds at the time of the giving of the Law. Something spectacular was expected. Yet, the Lord was not in any of these:

After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.

13 When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, “Elijah, why are you here?” 1 Kings 19:13–14

The Lord does not have to meet our expectations, nor does he have to repeat his actions. He has an infinite repertoire. He will use only Elijah and Elishia against a king and his army.

Elijah immediately starts to complain:

14 He replied, “I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. But the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.” 1 Kings 19:15–16

At the very least the Lord is abrupt with Elijah. He has proven himself a very faithful and courageous servant and the Lord does not even listen to his complaints. He immediately tells him:

15 “Go, take the road back to the desert near Damascus,” the LORD said to him. “When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king of Aram.

16 Then you shall anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, as king of Israel, and Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, as prophet to succeed you. 1 Kings 19:15–16

This is important on several levels: It is to be expected that Elijah would anoint the king of Israel and his successor as prophet. That he is to anoint the king of Aram is significant. This is a foreign land. The Lord is showing that he has power everywhere over everyone. He is not just a local god.

The Lord intends to purify his people of those who have done evil and he expects the pruning to be significant:

17 If anyone escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill him. If he escapes the sword if Jehu, Elisha will kill him. 1 Kings 19:17 (NAB)

He will leave a remnant of 7,000 because He never forgets His promise to David.

Yet there is also a more personal dimension.

We have seen that the Lord’s response to Elisha’s plight was to send him on a mission; indeed, a very dangerous one that required him to go back into land controlled by Ahaz and Jezebel. Where was his concern for Elijah as a person?

We see the same pattern with Elisha. He was obviously well to do with 12 yoke (pair) of oxen, and yet he tells him to give up everything to accept the hard life of the prophet. He accepts and asks only to kiss his parents goodbye. But look at his action. He slaughtered the oxen and used his plow for fuel to provide a feast for his people. He literally burned his bridges behind him, and then this well-off man “followed Elijah to serve him”.

Not a word of thanks or even recognition from the Lord.

Perhaps not in words, but for life to be meaningful and to have weight and substance, it is necessary to think and act beyond oneself. For us this must begin with worship, placing ultimate trust and loyalty in the God who acts in history. This is the way to happiness: it is not God who should thank us, but we who should thank Him.

Corpus Christi: Redeemed and Saved

The Annual Peter’s Pence collection will be taken up next week at all the Masses or on-line at https://stcharlesbklyn.weshareonline.org/PetersPence . This is opportunity to support the work of the Holy See among the poor. It is also a way of showing that we approve of the ministry of Pope Francis. For both reasons, we ask you to be generous.


June 23, 2019

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus (Corpus Christi)

Genesis 14:18-20


This week’s reading from the 14th chapter of Genesis presents many difficulties in interpretation, but a very simple and profound application.

It tells the story of Abram’s defeat of a cabal of kings – really warlords – who captured the city of Sodom and took his kinsman Lot into captivity. It is through this that he has the fateful meeting with Melchizedek, the priest king of Salem, that we read today. We do however need to see this encounter from a wider perspective

Abram and his nephew Lot were tribal chiefs of nomadic herders. They needed to move from place to place as their animals would clean the fields of usable sustenance. They both prospered and it was obvious that they would have to separate. Abram told Lot to choose first, and Lot choose the very fertile Jordon Plain near Sodom. Abram received the less desirable land of Canaan.

However, the inhabitants of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD (Gen 13:13) Also, they were involved in constant warfare with the other small city states. In one such battle, the king of Sodom loses decisively:

11 The victors seized all the possessions and food supplies of Sodom and Gomorrah and then went their way,

12 taking with them Abram’s nephew Lot, who had been living in Sodom, as well as his possessions. Genesis 14:11–12

Abram was obliged to be Lots “redeemer” and free him. Rather than ransoming him, he fights his captors in armed combat:

When Abram heard that his kinsman had been captured, he mustered three hundred and eighteen of his retainers, born in his house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan

15 He and his party deployed against them at night, defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus.

16 He recovered all the possessions, besides bringing back his kinsman Lot and his possessions, along with the women and the other captives. Genesis 14:14–16

This is not the Abram that we have previously seen. Here he is portrayed as a mighty warlord who defeats his enemies by force of arms This is one reason why this section is considered an addition to Genesis from another set of stories and legends. We will see that it is very convenient for the defenders of the Davidic line, but the basic point is in keeping with the message the author is telling us in the whole book of Genesis.

We need to go a bit further to see both.

When Abram returned from his defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were allied with him, the king of Sodom went out to greet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Gen 14:17

Note that the king of Sodom goes out to greet Abram. He is obeying protocol and accepting Abram as the dominant party. This will be important later but now we meet Melchizedek.

Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was a priest of God Most High. (Gen 14:18)

“God most high” is the most powerful god of the Canaanites. We must remember that at this time the Hebrews would have believed that each people had their own gods usually connected to a specific place, but that their God “The LORD” was unique in being trans-national and superior to the others.

The offering of bread and wine may be a religious ceremony or simply offering his men some refreshment; in any event, Abram accepts this blessing from this mysterious priest and indeed shows his appreciation by giving him a tithe of the goods.

Key however is that he is king/priest of Salem. By tradition this is or will be Jerusalem. Centuries later King David also acted as priest in Jerusalem.

They brought in the ark of the LORD and set it in its place within the tent which David had pitched for it. Then David sacrificed burnt offerings and communion offerings before the LORD. When David had finished sacrificing burnt offerings and communion offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. (2 Sam 6: 17-18)

Although the official priests were always from the line of Aaron, the brother of Moses, they repeatedly throughout Jewish history did not fulfill their tasks, and the authors of Genesis and the Pentateuch in general wanted to remind people of the sacred dimension of kingship.

Melchizedek had a history of his own which would have influenced how this would have been interpreted when finally written down after the exile.

4 The LORD has sworn and will not waver:

“Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever.” (Psalm 110:4)

This is usually interpreted that the priesthood of Melchizedek came from another, older, source than Aaron and is superior to it. Even the first post-exile readers of this may have thought that Melchizedek was speaking for their “Lord” as God most high. Indeed, the reference to creator may be an addition to confirm this. However, this would not have been the original understanding.

If we read beyond the section in today’s selection, we see a more traditional, or at least expected development.

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people; the goods you may keep.” Genesis 14:21

Remember that this king was defeated and now must ask Abram to return his kingdom. He is reflecting common ancient practice: a general who rescued a city kept the goods recovered but did not keep the city or its people for himself.

2 But Abram replied to the king of Sodom: “I have sworn to the LORD, God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth,

23 that I would not take so much as a thread or a sandal strap from anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ Genesis 14:22–23

Abram refuses to even accept what would have been considered his due because he has put all his trust in the Lord. To accept anything from anyone would be to violate this vow. He defeated the enemies of Sodom to redeem his kinsman not for any gain.

This is an eternal lesson. The God of Abraham will always find a way to support and guide us. Sometimes from the usual suspects like Abraham, Moses and David, but other times through a mysterious figure like Melchizedek. No matter how he wishes to connect with us, our response is to accept and know that whatever the messenger, the gift is always the Lord’s.