Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
There is a gentle but powerful message about presence in the readings of today. The Hebrew prophet Elijah comes to realise that the presence of God is not always perceived and rarely comes in the way the human mind might expect. Paul, writing to the Roman Christians, mentions how God became present to the Jewish people in the person of Jesus Christ. And in the gospel episode Jesus is a reassuring presence to the apostles who are panicking in the boat.
1 Kings 19:9. 11-13
The extract from the first book of Kings presents the prophet Elijah who has fled into the wilderness in order to escape from Jezebel, a Phoenician princess who became queen to King Ahab. Ahab reigned in Samaria over the northern kingdom of Israel in the years 871 to 852 B.C. (approx.). Jezebel attempted to introduce and expand the worship of the Canaanite god Baʽal and was strongly opposed by Elijah. When it came to a showdown between the prophets of Baʽal and Elijah to see whose god was the more powerful, Elijah won the contest and ordered the slaughter of the prophets of Baʽal, because the law of Deuteronomy prescribes the death penalty for prophets who advocate the worship of other gods. Furious over this incident, Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah, so the prophet fled into the desert. A messenger from God appeared to him and urged him to get further away so he walked on to Mt Horeb, which is often called the mount of God, although scholars dispute the location of this mountain. There the prophet took refuge in a cave.
The narrator then describes the heavenly messenger telling Elijah to stand at the mouth of the cave because God is about to pass by. We are then presented with a description of phenomena that traditionally accompany an epiphany, things like thunder and lightning, the blare of trumpets, strong wind, earthquake and fire. In this case we have a succession of a powerful wind, an earthquake and fire, but God was not present in any of these awe-inspiring events. Finally, there came the sound of a gentle whisper. The Hebrew (qol demama daqah) can also mean the sound of a soft silence.
Translating this as ‘the murmur of a gentle breeze’ also evokes the intensity of the scene that the writer is trying to create. The presence of God is quiet and unnoticed by those who are not mindful, and unprepared to welcome the Presence into their lives. Understanding God to be present, Elijah hid his face and opened his entire being to listen to the God to whom he had dedicated his whole life and his every activity.
The practice of mindfulness enables us to live in conscious appreciation of the divine presence
In Hebrew religious tradition, the presence of God in the world and among the people of Israel was expressed by the word Shekhinah, which means abiding, dwelling, settling in a place of choice because it is good to be there. Because it was believed that the Shekhinah dwelt only with the people of Israel the rabbis referred to a conversion to Judaism as ‘being brought under the wings of the Shekhinah’, that is, under the wings of the Presence.
In rabbinic writings, there are expressions like: the Shekhinah rests upon a person not through gloom, laziness or frivolity but only through the joy experienced in carrying out the will of God. This is the kind of blessedness that Jesus speaks of in his Beatitudes.
Again, the Shekhinah is present in every home where there is domestic peace, and again, sin and injustice drive the Shekhinah away. In Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, the Shekhinah is the tenth sephirah or attribute of God that represents the ‘feminine’ aspect of the Divinity. Jewish spirituality placed great emphasis on the presence of God in creation and in the lives of ordinary people. The practice of mindfulness enables us to be aware and to live in conscious appreciation of the divine presence.
The poet of the responsorial psalm expresses both a hope and an appeal for the ideal human life. The psalm was probably written in the post-exilic era after the Judahites had returned from their Babylonian captivity. They were ruled over by the Persians, who allowed them freedom of worship and a certain amount of independence to re-establish life in the holy land. The psalmist is looking forward to a prosperous and tranquil future that will be marked by justice and peace. But this is not naïve poetry. The poet knows that humans have to work at goodness and peace by living consciously in the Presence and regulating their lives according to God’s values. The poet is convinced that the result of living in harmony with God will be rich harvests, good fortune and social harmony.
The extract from Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians is part of the rather agonising reflection that fills chapters 9-11. Paul firmly wishes that his own people, the children of Israel, would come to accept Jesus Christ as their messiah. He wrestles with the problem of what will happen to those faithful Jews who lead good lives according to the traditions of Moses but who do not acknowledge Jesus. He does not have a compelling answer except to trust that God will work things out in the end.
The gospel reading from Matthew 14 is the familiar story of Jesus coming to his friends in the storm on the lake. At 214 metres below sea level the Sea of Galilee is subject to unpredictable winds that stir up the water. These winds abate as suddenly and mysteriously as they appear. There are lots of human touches in this episode that are worth pondering.
‘It was then,’ said the Lord, ‘that I carried you.’
The disciples are terrified; even the fishermen among them are afraid and, in their fear, they do not recognise Jesus approaching. They were not conscious that the Master was present. There are occasions when we can also find ourselves in a state of fear, even panic, or troubled. We can feel inadequate, unable to cope, on the point of despair and in such a state unable to recognise the presence of Christ. Recall the poem Footprints where the subject was secure that the Lord was walking beside her/him. Hence the two sets of footprints in the sand. But when there was only one set of footprints, where was the Lord? ‘It was then,’ said the Lord, ‘that I carried you.’
Seeing the alarm in his friends Jesus immediately reassured them. ‘Take heart!’ he said, ‘enāna’, which is an emphatic and insistent Aramaic way of speaking, corresponding to our English, ‘It’s me! It’s me!’ Then he said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’
So many times in the gospels we find Jesus dispelling fear. There is no room for fear in Jesus’ scheme of things; fear has no place in the reign of God.
Someone has filled the cup in front of us; can we fill the cup for another?
Then Peter gave himself away by saying ‘if’. ‘If it is you, tell me to come to you.’ This is like the person who prays, ‘Dear God, if you exist, please help me through this crisis.’ What kind of trust is that? In fact, it is some kind of insult. Peter stepped out of the boat and once again fear got in the way of trust. When he called out in panic Jesus reached out and held him, and then asked the obvious question, ‘Why did you doubt?’ Being held by Jesus, being touched by him restored Peter’s trust.
Can I recall and cherish the times in my life when Jesus has touched me through the goodness and care of another?
We do well to reflect on those occasions when someone has supported us, either by a physical touch or by their mere presence. And we might also consider ways in which we can be a support to another by our mere presence, or by a phone call, a text or an email. It generally does not take much to go an extra mile with somebody in need. It only takes sensitivity and generosity. Someone has filled the cup in front of us; can we fill the cup for another?
The real You is hidden beneath the mental noise in Your head - Bert McCoy (Contemporary American teacher)
If your mind carries a heavy burden of the past, you will experience more of the same. The past perpetuates itself through lack of presence. The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future - Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now (Modern spiritual teacher and writer)
Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realise that it is you who are the children of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty - Jesus (The Gospel of Thomas 3)
A mother travelled across the country to be with her only son to witness his wedding and his graduation from the Air Force on the exact same day.
‘Thank you, Mum, for coming,’ said the son. ‘It means so much.’
‘Of course I’d be here,’ the mother replied. ‘It’s not every day a mother watches her son get his wings and have them clipped all in one day.’