This weekend we celebrate the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The people of every age have tended to look for some assurance of God’s presence in miracles and great displays of power. The first reading carries an important message about listening to God’s voice and seeking His presence in the quiet moments of life. In the second reading, Paul wrestles with the difficult question of how the chosen people could have rejected the Messiah and with what that rejection means. The Gospel reading is both a revelation of who Jesus is and a lesson in discipleship. All of the readings together tend to raise certain questions within each of us. Where and how do I seek God’s presence? How is that experience of finding God lived out in my life as a disciple of Jesus? Is my focus in life where it should be?
First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
9 There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the LORD came 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.” 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. 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.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 19:9 The first part of this verse is included in the reading only to provide the setting for the story. God asks Elijah a question in the second part of verse 9 and both the question and the answer (verse 10) are left out of the reading so as not to confuse the issue that the church wishes to emphasize today. I left them in for the sake of completeness. In a sense, Elijah may be frustrated at Israel’s faithlessness and his lack of success in bringing them back to the covenant and he is complaining to God. God allows Elijah to experience His presence in the same way as Moses did. The solution to Elijah’s problem is to “stand before the Lord” even though he feels alone in doing so.
* 19:11-13 There are two traditions concerning the place name of the location at which the Mosaic covenant was made. One speaks of the “mountain of God” being Mt. Sinai and the other, Mt. Horeb. Most scholars think that the two traditions speak of the same place under two different names.
The divine manifestations to Elijah are reminiscent of those to Moses (Exodus 19:1-23; 33:21-23; 34:5) on the same Mount Horeb (Sinai) (Deut 4:10-15). Though various phenomena, (wind, storms, earthquakes, fire), herald the divine presence, and indeed are often used in the bible as signs of God’s presence (Exodus 19:18-19) they do not constitute the presence itself which, like the tiny whispering sound, is imperceptible and speaks of the spirituality of God. It was Elijah’s mission to re-establish the covenant and restore the pure faith, therefore it seems fitting that he should return to Horeb (Sinai) where the covenant was revealed to Moses and the Jewish people (Exodus 3:1-4,17; 33:18-34:9). Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ at the time of his transfiguration at the top of another mountain (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:1-7; Luke 9:28-36).
Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
1 I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the holy Spirit in bearing me witness 2 that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 9:1-11:36 This lengthy section deals with Israel’s unbelief and its rejection of Jesus as savior. This turn of events astonished and puzzled Christians and constituted a serious problem for them given God’s specific preparation of Israel for the advent of the Messiah. Here Paul addresses the question of if and how the divine plan could be frustrated by Israel’s unbelief. At the same time, Paul discourages both complacency and anxiety on the part of Gentiles whose coming to faith was largely a result of the Jews’ refusal to believe. He rebukes those who boast of Christian advantages over Jews by reminding them that their enjoyment of the blessings assigned to Israel can be terminated. He assures those who fear that Israel’s fate will be theirs by reminding them that only unbelief can deprive one of salvation.
* 9:2 Paul is tormented by his people’s rejection of Jesus.
* 9:3 This verse echoes the prayer of Moses for the rebellious Israelites (Exod 32:32) where Moses asks that He be blotted out of the book of life that the Israelites might be forgiven.
* 9:4-5 Here Paul uses the somewhat honorific religious title of “Israelites” which God had bestowed upon His people (Gen 32:28) instead of the more common political title “Jews.” See also 2 Cor 11:22. He then speaks of the seven historic prerogatives associated with the name:
Adoption of Israel as “son of God” (Exod 4:22; Deut 14:1; Hos 11:1) Manifestation of Yahweh’s presence in the dessert and in the Jerusalem Temple (Exod 16:10; 40:34; 1 Kgs 8:10-11)
The covenants made with the patriarchs (Gen 15:18; Exod 24:7-8; Sir 44::12,18)
The expression of God’s will given to Moses (Torah or law) (Exod 20:1-17;Deut
5:1-22) The worship of Yahweh in the Temple which was very different from the idolatrous practices of the neighboring nations
The promises made to Abraham ( Gen 12:2; 21:12), Moses (Deut 18:18-19), and David (2 Sam 7:11-16)
The ancestral heritage of the patriarchs.
Paul then adds an eighth and last privilege, that of being the people into which was born the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. This is one that the Jews had not accepted.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 14:22-33
22 Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. 24 Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. 27 At once (Jesus) spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
NOTES on Gospel:
* 14:22-33 The disciples were sent by Jesus across the lake into Gentile territory and are forced to deal with a turbulent sea. In the midst of their fear they are saved by Jesus Who approaches them walking on the water. In an earlier miracle story (Matthew 8:26) the calming of the sea may in part be meant to recall the Old Testament theme of God’s control over the chaotic waters (Psalm 65:8; 89:10; 93:3-4; 107:29). Here that power is expressed by Jesus walking on the sea (Matthew 14:25; see also Psalm 77:20; Job 9:8). Matthew modified the Marcan story (Mark 6:45-52) by inserting material that belongs to special traditions about Peter (Matthew 14:28-31) and by adding a statement of faith by the disciples that anticipates Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16.
As a whole this is a nature miracle story that could be called a sea-rescue epiphany resembling the calming of the storm in Matthew 8:18-27. Both are parables of the church under attack and both offer symbols of a faith that is bold in stepping out into the unknown and yet vulnerable because of human weakness. But in spite of human weakness, Jesus has both the power and the will to protect and to save His Church.
* 14:23 Jesus is often shown at prayer by the gospels.
* 14:24 The wind represents the hostile forces of the world.
* 14:25 The Romans divided the twelve hours between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. into four equal parts called “watches.” The fourth watch of the night indicates the time between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
In the Old Testament God overcomes the waves of death ( Ps 77:19: Job 9:8; 38:16; Isa 43:16; Sir 24:5-6).
* 14:;27 The cry that Jesus calls out to them is translated as “Take heart, It is I; do not be afraid!” Literally, the middle statement would be rendered “I am.” This may reflect both the Divine revelatory formula and the power to save of Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4,10,14; 43:1-3, 10, 13; 51:12; Ps 18:17-18; 144:7. Matthew like Mark implies the hidden identity of Jesus as Son of God.
* 14:28-31 These four verses are an insertion by Matthew into the story essentially taken from Mark’s account. They give a certain prominence to Peter that is unusual and is only found in two other special Petrine sections in Matthew (16:17-19; 17:24-27). Peter’s behavior only makes sense when seen as the result of impulsive love and faith that is weakened by doubt. Peter wishes to join Jesus on the water and asks to be called by Jesus. When Jesus calls him, Peter does succeed in walking on the water for a time. Eventually the wind and waves frighten him and he begins to sink as his attention focuses on them instead of on Jesus. When he begins to sink, he calls out to Jesus and Jesus immediately pulls him up. They then get in the boat.
* 14:33 Matthew departs from Mark here by reporting a confession of faith in Jesus which is in striking contrast to the Marcan parallel (Mark 6:51) where the disciples are “completely astounded.”