Daily Homily: I Have Come to Fulfill the Law and the Prophets

Wednesday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time, Year B

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1 Kings 18:20-39
Psalm 16:1b-2ab, 4, 5ab and 8, 11
Matthew 5:17-19

After three years of drought and famine in Israel, God tells the prophet Elijah to confront King Ahab. Elijah commands King Ahab to gather all Israel and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of . Asherah at Mount Carmel. There, Elijah challenges the false prophets of Ba’al to a contest to prove that the Lord is God. This challenge recalls the Old Testament confrontations between Moses and the Egyptian magicians in the Book of Exodus and between the Lord and the Dagon in the Book of Samuel.

Elijah mocks the prophets of Ba’al throughout the day as they are unable to call down fire from heaven upon the sacrifice. In the afternoon, Elijah repairs the altar of the Lord with twelve stones, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel. To show the power of the Lord God, Elijah douses the sacrifice with water and fills the trench around the altar with water.

In contrast to the complicated prayer and frenzied actions of the prophets of Ba’al, Elijah’s prayer to God is very simple. He first recalls God’s faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. By doing this, Elijah’s prayer recognizes that God has acts in history and cares for his people, who have entered into a covenant with him. Second, Elijah says that he has served the Lord faithfully and done everything according to his word. In this case, he did exactly as the Lord commanded during the famine and now confronts the King about the false prophets of Ba’al. Lastly, Elijah asks God to answer his prayer so that the people of Israel may know him as the true God and may turn their hearts back to him. He is not seeking his own glory, but only that of the Lord God. God answers his prayer and heavenly fire consumes the sacrifice and licks up the water. Before this great sign and manifestation of divine power, the people cry out: «The Lord is God; the Lord is God».

In the Gospel, Jesus has just finished proclaiming the beatitudes and he now begins to explain his relationship to the Law of Moses and the prophets. He fulfills them in two ways: first through his life, death and resurrection; second through his teaching, «by showing the kind of life to which the law ultimately pointed». Jesus is the authoritative interpreter of the law and brings out its deeper meaning. «It is in this sense that the smallest letter of the law remains until heaven and earth pass away and until all things have taken place. The law retains its status as God’s revealed word, and one must continue to teach and obey these commandments. But disciples must now follow the law in light of Christ’s authoritative interpretation» (C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 94).

With the two readings in mind, we can ask the question of how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament passage. First of all, Jesus’ public ministry is dedicated to gathering all Israel. Second, he does battle with evil and is victorious over the devil’s temptations. Third, Jesus promises to bring fire upon the earth – this fire is that of the Holy Spirit. Fourth, Jesus’ prayer to the Father is simple and he invites his disciples to not imitate the pharisees with long-winded and complicated prayers (Matthew 6:7). Fifth, Jesus was faithful to God’s word and revealed everything the Father wanted him to reveal for our salvation. Sixth, Jesus worked signs and wonders to bring the people to faith in him and in his Father. Seventh, the words of Saint Thomas, before the great sign of the risen Christ, recall those of the people before the sign of the heavenly fire: «My Lord and my God».

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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