Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: 1 Kings 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a, Romans 9:1-5, and Matthew 19:22-33. (Watch on YouTube)
The Liturgy of the Catholic Mass is Forming us to Have No Fear of the World
The Catholic Mass promises that whenever we attend to the liturgy, the Real Presence of the Lord is there with us. No matter how we are feeling, no matter what time it is in our life; whether it is a time of trouble, a time of distress, a time of anxiety, a time of joy, or a time of peace, the promise remains the same; that from the rising of the sun until its setting, as long as we have priests we will be able to visit the Real Presence of our Lord and worship Him and He will condescend to commune with us.
Such a blessing as this was not always the case in God’s covenant with His people. For example, in today’s First Reading for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A, from 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13, the Prophet Elijah was running in fear for his life after Jezebel had promised to end his after for having killed all her false prophets. Albeit, for different reasons, the imagery of Elijah running from Samaria to Beer-sheba, which was in the opposite direction to Damascus, where God would send him, reminds us of Jonah, who fled to Tarshish, which was in the opposite direction of Nineveh, where God was sending him to preach. Elijah’s forty-days and forty-nights journey to Mount Horeb reminds us of Moses, who went to Mount Sinai (most likely the same mountain as Horeb) and remained there for forty days and forty nights. Just as Christ Jesus’ test in the desert came after fasting for forty days and forty nights, Elijah fasted for forty days and forty nights until he came to a cave at Mount Horeb, where God tested him, saying, “Why are you here, Elijah?” Here, the Lord implies that Elijah should be somewhere else than here. Elijah is out of place because he is in fear of the world. He says as much in his reply to the divine question, saying, “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.” Here, Elijah offers a typical response to the human condition. Like Elijah, we always seem to believe that God owes us something for doing what He has called us to do, but we never ask why an enslaved person or servant should demand anything from their master who provides for them everything they need. Also, in times of trouble, we seem to doubt or forget that the Presence of the Lord is with us.
The response from God to Elijah’s doubt was to say, ‘What do you need to know to that I am with you and that you are not alone in this?’ How about I give you a test? The text reads, “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.” Ah ha. There it was. Sometimes, we look for these big, magnificent signs of awe and wonder to prove that God is with us. Still, sometimes, it is just the appearance of a small wafer of bread and a drop of wine, or in Elijah’s case, a light, silent sound. When Elijah heard the Presence of God, out of reverence and maybe a little shame and embarrassment because of his doubt, he “hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” Then the question returns, “Why are you here, Elijah?” To which the Prophet answers just as before. Now the Lord is ready to have mercy on this poor Prophet who has served him well; by commanding him to go back through Samaria, where Jezebel was seeking his life, and then to Damascus, where he is to complete his final three assignments, first, to anoint Hazael as king of Aram, second, anoint Jehu as king of Israel, and third anoint Elisha as his successor. The Prophet Elijah would only perform the latter of these three assignments.
This theme of overcoming fear by trusting in the Presence of the Lord continues in today’s Second Reading from Romans 9:1-5, which is a type of preface to the Apostle Paul’s lamentation for the Jews. In this letter to the Church of Rome, he says, “I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart” because he feels a deep sense of anguish for the plight of his former brothers and kinsmen who have rejected Jesus, the Messiah of God. Yet, he presses forward in speaking the truth to them because, he says, “my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness.” Today’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 14:22-33 also continues the theme of overcoming fear by trusting in the Presence of the Lord with Simon Peter stepping out of the boat and beginning to walk on water toward Jesus. Peter overcame his fear as he began to sink, and in the Presence of Christ Jesus cried out, “Lord, save me!” And the Lord did save him by stretching out his hand to catch him from sinking further.
Truly, there are countless things we can fear, and we can fear nothing by trusting in the Lord our God. The Church and her Sacrament are calling us into a divine life of fearlessness. She even desires us to reject sin, not because we fear the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but because we love and trust in God. “Peace be with you” could be a mere response or an opportunity to practice how we respond. For, peace is not a thing, but rather, a person named Jesus Christ.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.