Daily Homily: The Lord Will Be Passing By

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

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1 Kings 19:9a, 11-16
Psalm 27:7-8a, 8b-9abc, 13-14
Matthew 5:27-32

The episode with Elijah is an eloquent testimony to the reality of our encounter with God in prayer. In a certain sense, Elijah represents a culminating moment in the prayer of the Old Testament: the wind, the earthquake, the fire, and God passing by, all recall other episodes of prayerful encounter between God and his people.

The story of Adam and Eve in the garden before the fall suggests a close relationship between God and his children. The garden was the habitual place of encounter between God and man. After the fall, we are told that God was walking in the garden in the cool (ruah – wind, breath, spirit) of the day (Genesis 3:8). After the fall, man’s relationship with God continues: in the offering of the first-born of Abel’s flock; in the invocation of the divine name at the time of Enosh (Genesis 4:26); in Enoch’s and Noah’s walking with God (Genesis 5:24; 6:9); and in Noah’s offering that was pleasing to God (Genesis 8:20-21) (CCC, 2569). God walks with man, he is present to man, and desires that we enter into prayerful communion with him.

The story of Abraham shows us a man whose heart is attentive and submissive to the Word of God. «Such attentiveness of the heart, whose decisions are made according to God’s will, is essential to prayer, while the words used count only in relation to it. Abraham’s prayer is expressed first by deeds: a man of silence, he constructs an altar to the Lord at each stage of the journey. Only later does Abraham’s first prayer in words appear: a veiled complaint reminding God of his promises which seem unfulfilled (Genesis 15:2)» (CCC, 2570). Here we learn that we are tested to believe in the fidelity of God. «Because Abraham believed in God and walked in his presence and in covenant with him, the patriarch is ready to welcome a mysterious Guest into his tent». This encounter foreshadows the annunciation of the Messiah, the true Son of the promise. «Once God had confided his plan, Abraham’s heart is attuned to his Lord’s compassion for men and he dares to intercede for them with bold confidence» (CCC, 2571).

Pope Benedict took up Abraham’s intercession for the city of Sodom during his Wednesday General Audience on 18 May 2011. Abraham’s prayer is an appeal to God’s justice and mercy: he knocks at the door of God’s heart knowing what God truly desires. God does not want the death of the wicked, but rather wants to transform evil into good. Abraham stops his intercession at ten righteous people, yet ten are not found. Centuries later, not even one righteous person is found in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 5:1). It became necessary for God himself to become that one righteous person, and this is the mystery of the Incarnation: to guarantee a just person, God himself becomes man. «There will always be one righteous person because it is he. God himself must become that just man» (Pope Benedict XVI, A School of Prayer, Ignatius Press, 20-25). The righteous one, Jesus Christ, forgives and intercedes for us. United to Christ’s intercession, our prayers of intercession will be fully heard.

Abraham’s faith does not weaken even as he climbs the mountain to sacrifice his only son. He says to his son that «God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering». Through his actions, Abraham is conformed to the likeness of God the Father who will not spare his own Son but will deliver him up for us all. So far, we have seen that prayer is a place of encounter with God, that we manifest our faith in God’s fidelity through prayer, and that our prayer of intercession, our prayer for God’s mercy, will be heard. To these, the episode of the binding of Isaac adds a fourth lesson: «Prayer restores man to God’s likeness and enables him to share in the power of God’s love that saves the multitude» (CCC, 2572).

A fifth lesson, concerning the battle of prayer, is manifested in the story of Jacob, who wrestles all night with a mysterious figure. In the morning, Jacob declares: «I have seen God, face to face, and yet my life is preserved» (Genesis 32:30). «The spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance» (CCC, 2573). «Prayer requires trust, nearness, almost a hand-to-hand contact that is symbolic, not of a God who is an enemy, an adversary, but of a Lord of blessing who always remains mysterious, who seems beyond reach» (Pope Benedict XVI, A School of Prayer, 31). The object of our desire is a relationship with God, his blessing and love, our «struggle cannot fail but ends in that self-giving to God, in recognition of one’s own weakness, which is overcome only by giving oneself over into God’s merciful hands» (Pope Benedict XVI, A School of Prayer, 31-32).

The encounters between God and Moses more closely resemble some of the elements in today’s first reading. God calls to Moses from the fire of the burning bush. At the foot of Mount Sinai, there was thunder and lightning, smoke, fire and an earthquake (Exodus 19:16-18). Later on, when Moses asks to see God’s glory, God responds: «I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name  ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shows mercy on whom I will show mercy». God places Moses in a cleft of a rock, and covers him until he has passed by. God removes his hand, allowing Moses to see his back, but does not show him his face.

Elijah does not encounter God in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but rather in a gentle, whispering breeze. The Catechism connects Elijah’s experience with that of Moses and the Transfiguration: «Taking the desert road that leads to the place where the living and true God reveals himself to his people, Elijah, like Moses before him, hides ‘in a cleft of the rock’ until the mysterious presence of God has passed by. But only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled face of him whom they sought; ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [shines] in the face of Christ,’ crucified and risen» (CCC, 2584).

Today’s Psalm invites us to pray: «I long to see you face, O Lord». Our longing and waiting for the Lord is answered in the coming of Jesus Christ. The law of the Old Covenant was incapable of reconciling us with God; the New Covenant, established by Jesus Christ, fulfills and perfects the Old Law. The New Law, he Catechism teaches, is the grace of the Holy Spirit: it is a law of love because it makes us act out of love infused by the Holy Spirit; it is a law of grace, because it confers the strength of grace to act; it is the law of freedom, because it sets us free from the ritual and juridical observances of the Old Law (CCC, 1972).

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brings about a fundamental revision of the way of understanding and carrying out the moral law of the Old Covenant. Yesterday, we saw his revision of the fifth commandment. Today, Jesus addresses the sixth commandment. Tomorrow, Jesus takes up the eighth commandment. In his revision, Jesus brings the Old Law to fulfillment for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. He challenges the New People of God to a righteousness which surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. In particular, we are challenged to live a radical interior purity: «Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God» (Matthew 5:8). Purity of heart means life according to what the Spirit wants and not according to what the flesh wants (Romans 8:5-10); Galatians 5:19-23). In this way, through life according to the Spirit and by praying in union with the Son, we truly enter into communion with God.

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

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