Tag Archives: Elijah

Elijah and Ahab

This week the first lectionary readings are from the Elijah cycle in the First Book of Kings. Elijah is one of those prophets that I love but who has a few character flaws – most notably his killing of the 450 prophets of Baal.

What surprised me today is that the lectionary skips over three very important stories.

The first is a follow up to Elijah’s encounter with the widow of Zarephath in Tuesday’s reading. The widow’s little boy dies and Elijah raises him to life (1 Kings 17:17-24).

The second is the end of the drought and his encounter with Obadiah, the master of the place who had hid 100 prophets when Queen Jezebel (the original one) was slaughtering all the prophets of the LORD.

But the scene that strikes me most is the meeting of Elijah and Ahab (1 Kings 18: 16-21).

When Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is it you, you disturber of Israel?” He answered, “It is not I who disturb Israel, but you and your father’s house, by forsaking the commands of the LORD and you by following the Baals.

Dan Berrigan in The Kings and Their Gods: The Pathology of Power puts it even more boldly:

The king enters. His welcome is decidedly frigid: “So it’s you, the scourge of Israel!”
Not at all set back, the prophet retorts, “Not I; you are the scourge of Israel!” And he proceeds to upbraid the king unmercifully for his defection to Baal, and to propose a test, a public showdown between himself and the entire coterie of practicing Baalian priestdom.
Bracing, we say – and bravo! At long last we encounter a spirit undaunted daunted by royal persiflage, threats, blandishments.

As I read about the letter of Archbishop Viganò to Donald Trump and the archbishop’s unkind, probably calumnious words about Archbishop Wilton Gregory, and I wonder if we are in the midst of a “Baalian priestdom” who worship the false gods of power, violence, and domination and pretend to provide divine blessings on the US president.

Who is the real prophet – Archbishop Wilton Gregory or the retired archbishop who is spouting conspiracy theories and defending Trump?

Who is more like Elijah? Who is more like the court prophets?

I have my opinions. I may be wrong, but I don’t see vitriol or calumny as a sign of a follower of Jesus.

Today I am breaking my usual reticence to speak about specific persons and politics, but recent events have caused me a bit of perturbation.

The breath of God

Elijah is one of my favorite prophets.

This prophet who ended up killing 450 prophets might seem an unlikely favorite of a pacifist.

But Elijah is a prophet who dared to stand up to rulers and false prophets. Elijah shows God’s preference for the poor when he condemns Ahab’s avarice that had led the king to take Naboth’s vineyard by means of false witnesses and the death of Naboth, engineered by the queen Jezebel.

Elijah, fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:6)

Elijah, fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:6)

But Elijah is also a prophet who trusted in God. After he had proclaimed the drought on the land, he went and lived by the stream Cherith, where he was fed daily by a raven.

When the stream dried up, he went to Zarephath where he elicited the help of a poor widow. When her son died, he brought him back to life by what sounds like artificial respiration, so that the breath returned to the child.

Elijah also was a man who had his moments of desperation. He fled from Queen Jezebel into the desert and laid down to die. But God called him to walk to Mount Horeb. When God asks him what’s up, Elijah responds with a whiny response: “No one is left but me…”

But God reveals God’s very self to Elijah on the mountain.

This passage, 1 Kings 19: 9-13, which is the first reading today, is one of my favorite passages in scripture.

Mount Horeb is Mount Sinai where God was revealed to Moses and the people of Israel in fire, earthquakes, lightning – a grand display equal to Cecil DeMille’s epic movie.

Elijah also had his experience with fire, when he called down God’s fire on the offering on Mount Carmel. The story reveals a bit of Elijah’s brazen arrogance and sarcastic wit when, after insulting the prophets of Baal asking them if their god was taking a nap or out visiting,  he drenches his sacrifice with twelve jars of water.

God was, for Elijah, often the God of power and might, of rock-breaking winds, lightning, and powerful movements of the earth – a vindictive god.

But Elijah is called to experience God in another way – in a gentle breeze, a soft murmuring, a breath.

God often comes to us in ways he do not expect – or do not want.

Elijah probably wanted a god who would vindicate him before the king. He was used to a God who did things in big ways – whether on Mount Sinai or Mount Carmel.

But God came to Elijah in a breath, something small and assuming, something which could easily be missed.

God often calls us in those small quiet ways.

But God prepares us for these encounters, as God prepared Elijah.

Recall that though Elijah is often associated with the death of prophets, he also brought the son of the widow back to life, appealing to God to “let the child’s breath return to him.”

Let us listen to the breath of God today and also nourish the breath of God in the children of widows and the poor.


Turning the hearts of parents

 [Elijah], you are destined, it is written, at the appointed time…
to turn back the hearts of parents toward their children…
Sirach 48: 10

 When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, announcing the birth of John the Baptist, he used these words, first written about Elijah, to describe the mission of the Precursor of the Lord.

What strikes me is that the missions of Elijah and John are all about the conversion of parents, not of the children. One could interpret the angel’s statement that John will turn “the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous” as a reference to disobedient children, but I don’t think that is what the text means.

Why, then, do parents need to turn their hearts to their children?

We have so many expectations for the next generation, so many hopes that they will fulfill what we haven’t.

But are we open to the ways that God may call the young, their ways of trying to live up to who they are and who they are called to be?

Is the generation gap due not to the rebelliousness of the young but the conformity and traditions-bound convictions of the old?

I have seen this in the rural parish where I help here in Honduras. Some of those who have been serving in the church don’t always welcome the young who want to be involved – especially in positions of leadership.

The small but vocal opposition to the reforms of Pope Francis and his strong words about the economy are another sign of that adherence to traditions. (Note the plural “traditions.” I don’t know who said it but Tradition is the living faith of the dead and traditions are often the dead faith of the living.)

Today’s saint, John of the Cross, endured persecution, jailing, and more as he sought to reform the Carmelites in 16th century Spain, together with St. Teresa of Avila.

The hearts of many of the leaders of his order, an order that lays claim to the inheritance of Elijah, were turned against him. Not only did the “Observants” imprison and beat him but he suffered marginalization in his final days at the hands of his own reformed brothers.

But in all this, he sought God.

So today we might ask God to open our hearts to the young and to those who challenge us to new ways of thinking and living, new ways of being faithful to the Gospels.

It might not be easy, but God will accompany us – as John of the Cross recognized the presence of Christ even in the dark night.


Elijah and the widow

For about ten days the first weekday lectionary readings for Catholics will be about Elijah, the prophet. For many years these stories have inspired me.

Today’s story (1 Kings 17: 7-16) is about the widow of Zarephath, who in her poverty responds to Elijah’s request for water and bread.

She has only enough for one meal of bread and water for her son and herself.  “I am just now gathering some sticks so that I may go in and prepare something for myself and my son to eat – and then die.”

But she shares, after hearing the word of Elijah, “Do not fear.” And there was enough flour and oil for a year!

She risks her life – her food – for a foreign prophet whose only promise is the loving providence of God which he had experienced for several months at the Wadi Cherith, where the water flowed and where crows brought him bread and meat twice a day.

How many times have I seen this generosity, this trust in God, especially from women.

Today a friend, Sister Pat Farrell, and others from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious are in Rome speaking to Vatican officials. I pray that her generosity and her devotion to the God of the Poor – lived out in San Antonio, Chile, El Salvador, and Omaha – may open the way for God to work and multiply the good works of God in this world.