Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Homily, Aug. 7, 2011 Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Normally the readings for each day can be found at www.usccb.org/bible/readings.  For this Sunday I have expanded to first reading to include several verses left out of the lectionary.  Below is the reading I use in the following homily.   Fr Chuck

A reading from the First Book of Kings:  (1 Kings 19-9-13)

At the mountain of God, Horeb, Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the LORD came to him: Why are you here, Elijah?  He answered: “I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.”  Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD;  the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake;  after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, Why are you here, Elijah?
The Word of the Lord. 

            O Peter.  What a guy!   In the past when I have heard this story about Peter’s soggy attempt to walk on water, I always thought that he had been trying to show off.  That his request of “Hey Jesus, tell me to come to you across the water” was an example of braggadocio on Peter’s part, and then when through his own foolhardiness he got in over his head, literally, he had to cry out for help. 
            Then reading the Anchor Bible translation of this story in Matthew’s Gospel I read this version of his words: “Sir - if that is who you are - tell me to come to you on the water,”
            ¿”If that is who you are”???     I kind of overlooked that part, but sure enough, there it is: Peter says: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
            “If it is you???”  Well, who did Peter think it was walking on the water?   A figment of his imagination?  An evil spirit pretending to be Jesus?  
            It is a strange question, and to my mind at least, makes Peter’s action a bit more complex, and yet more understandable.  This question shows that there was some doubt or hesitation on Peter’s part even before he got out of the boat.  It is as if Peter was looking for an excuse NOT to go strolling on the sea. 
Perhaps what is going on here is that Peter, who loved Jesus very much, is obviously pulled to be with Jesus; and something in him is urging him to go to his master, to Jesus.  Peter is hearing a tiny whispering sound that is calling to him.  And Peter, though he loves Jesus and wants to be with Him, is also aware that the water is not too firm.  And so - a little hesitant - Peter questions - “Is it really you, Lord??  Or is this some crazy cockamamie idea of my own?”   
Because if it is Peter’s own imagination, then he can dismiss the idea!  Maybe Peter is looking for an out here.  Maybe his getting out of the boat is not about braggadocio and showing off as it is a less than full-hearted response in faith.
            If so, I think then it is truer to some of our experience.   For example, a long time ago when I was in college, at Washington University in St. Louis, my intention was to become a lawyer, and then perhaps go into politics. 
But then this kind of quiet, nagging thought would come from time to time about priesthood.  And then of course the question is, “is this a prompting from God, or is this just some crazy figment of my imagination?”  Of course I hoped for the later, and for several years I tried to ignore the idea and say it wasn’t real.  Remembering that time I can identify with Peter in his asking; “Is that really you, Lord?” who beckons me? 
            It is like that “tiny whispering sound” that Elijah hears in the first reading today.  Elijah is hiding in this cave on Mt. Horeb.  Mt. Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law.  And Elijah is hiding there because Queen Jezebel is out to kill him.  And God had already, in a verse left out of the lectionary but included in the reading today, asked Elijah “Why are you here?  
            Then there was a strong and heavy wind, a storm so strong it crushed rocks.  But God was not in the wind.  Then there was an earthquake.  But God was not in the earthquake. Then there was FIRE, but God was not in the fire.  Finally there was “a tiny whispering sound”, and Elijah hides his face, because God asks Elijah a second time, “Why are you here? 
Guess what?  Elijah did not want to hear God, because God was saying, “What are you doing hiding here when I have work for you to do?” and God gives Elijah instructions to anoint another person as king, to appoint Elisha to be his successor as prophet and do other stuff.  Great story you can read in 1st Kings, chapter 19.  But the point is that the “tiny whispering sound” calls Elijah to leave the safety of the cave, the safety of being anonymous and hidden in the crowd,  and go do God’s work.
            God’s does not always speak to us words of comfort and consolation.  A lot of times that prompting, that attraction, that nagging thought, that tiny whispering sound calls us to get out of the boat, to leave the hiding place, to move out of our comfort zone and take a risk. 
            It could be a lot of things.  Maybe it is a call to apologize to someone you hurt or disappointed.  Maybe it is an urge to reach out in reconciliation to a sibling or in-law from whom you have been estranged. 
Perhaps it is a call to generosity in spite of the economic uncertainties.   Maybe it is an unpopular call to defend the rights of immigrants in the face of rising neo-nativism, or the rights of those not yet born.  Perhaps it is the idea of checking regularly on a homebound neighbor and offering help.  Or maybe even the nagging thought of becoming a priest or religious!  
            Because it always involves some risk, some insecurity, some walking on water, our natural tendency is to repeat the question of Peter: “Is it really you, Lord, or is this some nutty idea I can safely and conveniently ignore?” 
            When finally we listen, and we do get out of the boat or leave the cave or respond to the call, and then like Peter we fail or mess it up, or start to sink, like Peter we cry out “Lord, save me!”, and also like Peter, the Lord will be there to catch us, and pull us up again. 
            Peter is not such a bad model after all.

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