A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

The fact was,  Elijah was running for his life.  He thought the desert would be a good place to hide.  Blowing winds could easily cover footprints in the sand.  Finally,  he came across a cave in a nearby mountain which would be an ideal hiding place.  After all, he was mortally  threatened while being chased by the evil queen Jezebel for what he had done on Mount Carmel.

The first reading from the 19th Sunday in Ordinary time (I Kings 19:9-13) tells us not only about Elijah’s escape from Queen Jezebel, but also of the interesting way in which he ecountered God–the focus of our attention.

While Elijah is in the cave he hears God’s voice telling him to go outside the cave because “the Lord will be passing by.”  As he steps outside, a curious set of events takes place. For instance, a great and strong wind passes by breaking rocks into pieces, and splitting mountains.  But the Lord was NOT in the strong wind.

Next, there came an earthquake.  But the Lord was NOT in the earthquake.  Then, there came fire.  But the Lord was NOT in the fire.  Finally, there was “tiny whispering sound.”  And thus the Lord revealed himself to Elijah in a moment of quiet.  It was in this moment of quiet that the Lord revealed himself to Elijah and commented to him his future ministry.

I find it curious that here is presented a contrast between noise and quiet each as a locus of divine revelation.  Normally, thunder, lightning, earthquake and fire were the usual ways in which the presence of the divinity was announced–much as a blare of trumpets announced the presence of royalty.  Consequently,  in this narrative we note that divine presence can just as well be the quiet moment.

What is also curious is the subtle comparison between Elijah and Moses in the way each encounters God.  First of all, both go to the same mountain.  Elijah to Horeb (one tradition)  and Moses to Sinai (another tradition).  The “mountain” was often considered the place of encounter between the human and the divine.  Something special would occur there.  Moses received the Law/Commandments on Sinai, and Elijah received further instruction regarding his ministry on Horeb.

Secondly, it is within the context of the mountain that Moses and Elijah encounter God.  Moses and the burning bush (though the text names the mountain “Horeb”–Exodus 3:1) and Elijah and the “still small voice.”  What are we to make of this type of parallelism?  I suspect that encounter with the deity, near a sacred mountain, suggests that something special is to happen to a leader of the people.  And if the experience of the encounter  takes place accompanied by overt natural elements, or in the midst of quietness, the effect is the same.  That is, the chosen leader is given a significant ministry to follow.

Given this reading for reflection, what are some practical lessons that we can learn?  First of all,  Elijah went to a mountain in an attempt to save his life.  Secondly, there he encountered God in a moment of quiet.  A question that I must ask myself is, where (or what) is my mountain?  My meeting God does not necessarily have to be public, but it can be quiet.  A milieu that may match my personality.  Quite likely, the reflection of that divine encounter may clarify for me my ministry to others, namely, treating them with justice, compassion, forgiveness, dignity, and forgiveness.

So it is, with a combination of “mountain,” “meeting,” and “ministry” I would be in a good position to be of service to others.




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