Where do we expect to experience the presence of God? That is the question that comes from reading the passage from the First Book of Kings. God raises up Elijah as a prophet during a very difficult time in Israeli history. After the death of Solomon Israel became a divided kingdom into two kingdoms and within each kingdom there were further divisions among the Israelites faithful to the Covenant and leaders who allowed and some even participated in the worship of idols. Elijah is called by God to confront King Ahab for following the pagan god Baal, and this leads to a showdown between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal. While the prophets of Baal prayed, danced and went into a frenzy calling upon Baal to accept their sacrifice, nothing happened. When Elijah came forward and called upon God to accept his sacrifice God responded very dramatically by sending fire from heaven that consumed the sacrifice, wood and stones that surrounded it. This is followed by the prophets of Baal losing their lives. King Ahab, rather than being impressed and led to repentance by this mighty act of God, is determined to kill Elijah, and thus Elijah is a man on the run. The first reading picks up here and we hear about Elijah hiding in the mountains and going to a cave where God instructs him; “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.” He stands and witnesses a strong wind, and earthquake and fire, but he did not see God in any of these. It was in a tiny whispering sound that he recognized the Lord and hid his face.
In the Gospel we hear of the apostles crossing the sea during heavy winds. They become frightened and fear that they are going to die. It is then that they see someone walking on water towards them and realize that it is Jesus. He says to them words that he will speak to them numerous times in the future; “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” What a dramatic experience of God’s presence with them, and care for them.
After the long introduction that I think was needed to put the first reading in context and the brief summary of the Gospel we get to the questions that comes from these readings; how does God reveal himself to us? Do we always expect to experience his presence in the same way? And how attentive are we to God revealing himself to us in different ways? God is present to us and cares for each one of us. Occasionally it might be in some dramatic way, such as seeing someone experience a healing after being told by the physicians that there is no treatment and no hope of healing. When things like that occur, we tell others how we saw a miracle. More often God acts in quiet ways, such as Elijah experienced on the mountain that could be easy for us to miss. The key to the readings today is to be attentive to God’s presence, never assuming we know how God will be present to us or in what way we might experience his presence. Who would ever expect to experience the real presence of God in a small piece of unleavened bread and some wine? Yet in these simple forms God becomes truly present to us in the Eucharist. God reveals his presence to us in the simplest ways as well as the very dramatic experiences and we should be prepared to see God regardless of how he is present and acts in our lives.
Father Killian Loch O.S.B.
Artwork: An icon of Elijah from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai.