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A Scripture Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Richard E. McCarron | August 13, 2017

A Scripture Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 13, 2017: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

Some spooky and scary scripture passages for our hearing this week!
After being threatened with a death sentence by Jezebel for his slaying of the prophets of Baal, Elijah runs in fear for his life and ends up sent on a journey to Horeb (Sinai). Our lectionary passage picks up at his arrival at the mountain of God, yet omits the question Elijah receives from God when he arrives: What are you doing here? (19:9b). Clearly, he is not where he was supposed to be--back in the fray, following his prophetic call, not running from it. God then directs him to stand on the mountain. And the frightening, earth-moving sound and light show begins. The sounds of howling winds, crushing rocks, rumblings of the earth, and the blaze of fire were all known as manifestations of God's power. Zealous Elijah, wondering whether the Lord was passing by with judgment or with the promise of freedom, no doubt trembled in fear. Yet, he does not find God in the display of power; rather he discerns the presence of God in the "tiny whispering sound." Some versions render this interesting Hebrew phrase as the "sound of sheer silence" (NRSV).
Elijah was bombarded with sound and light--where we too might often expect to see God in the extraordinary. But it was by still listening, by still paying close attention, in shutting out the sound and light show and rather savoring the silence, the murmur, and contemplating the simplicity, that Elijah recognizes God is present. It is important to note what follows the passage we hear proclaimed. God speaks again: What are you doing here? And Elijah does not remain enraptured on the mountain: God sends him out to his prophetic ministry (1 Kings 19:15-16).
A spectral scene, one also fraught with peril, unfolds in the gospel text on the chaotic nighttime Sea of Galilee. While Jesus is off praying, the disciples are sent ahead and find themselves soon being storm-tossed at night in their boat. Finally, in the very early morning, Jesus comes to them. Not with might, not to still the storm here, but to tell them to take courage in the midst of danger and to calm their fear as they tossed in the turbulent waters. This haunting figure brings comfort in the midst of turbulence, a promise that they might come to some safe harbor.  Peter seems to have found that out the hard way. The churning waters did not cease, but his distress is met by Jesus's hand reaching out to pull him up in the midst of crashing water and bring him back to their battered boat.
While we too simply say that if you have more faith you won't sink, it may be important to recognize that the storm did not cease and it probably will come back. Many of us face various storms in our lives as we chart our battered boats ahead. Many of want to run like Elijah, only to find God in ways we may not have expected. Yet in that encounter with Divine Presence we find calm and courage to move forward in the midst of and through the next storm to come. Sometimes, we may need to summon a lifeboat; we may need to be haunted again. But such is the journey of our daily lives: reaching out each day to Christ to pull us back into our boats once again.
We should also remember that there are still others who don't make it: many are truly running for their lives and sink. In 2013, Pope Francis travelled to Lampedusa, a small island off the coast of Sicily, often the first harbor for migrants and refugees coming through North Africa. Their lives are in peril, and the voyage across is perilous too. Scores drown after their boats capsize, and they are left to cling the boats or to the fishing nets as they struggle to survive. In Lampedusa, there is a "cemetery of boats," the wreckage gathered to mark the deaths of so many. In the Mass to remember these lost, Pope Francis celebrated at an altar that was constructed from the remnants of these refugee boats. The church of Lampedusa proclaimed in word and sacrament the continued presence of Christ by holding close the specters of those lost.
From the scary and spooky we hear today comes a summons: a call to courageous discipleship and to prophetic action. This call emanates from an encounter--maybe on a mountain like Elijah, maybe in storm-tossed waters like the disciples, maybe from our streets each day, maybe from a profound silence, a haunting encounter, or the memory of those lost along the way. It can be answered by our willingness to move forward in promise to be the hand stretched out to pull up those who call out to us on this treacherous journey. Indeed, Lord, save us!
The above image is from the Public Domain.
Author information Richard E. McCarron

Associate Professor of Liturgy
M.A., Ph.D., The Catholic University of America

Richard McCarron received an M.A. and Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. He teaches in the areas of liturgical and sacramental theology, liturgical history, liturgy and culture, and catechesis. He is committed to authentic expressions of liturgy among particular communities of faith, attending to the interaction of liturgical celebration and culture in past and present. He engages the methods of critical hermeneutics to develop a dynamic theology of liturgy and sacrament and aims to help pastoral ministers realize the formative power of liturgical celebrations and reflection on them. His research areas are liturgy and sacrament in postmodernity; hermeneutics of imagination and liturgy; and contemporary efforts at inculturation and liturgy. He continues interest in the East Syrian liturgy, which was the subject of his doctoral research.

Richard’s book, The Eucharistic Prayer at Sunday Mass, won first place from the Catholic Press Association Book Award for Liturgy in 1998 (Liturgy Training Publications, 1998/reprinted Wipf and Stock, 2008). Richard’s more recent work includes contributions to the Commentary on the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (ed. E. Foley, J. Pierce, and N. Mitchell [Liturgical Press, 2007]), and “Why Have You Abandoned Us? Liturgy in a Time of Natural Disaster” in All Your Waves Swept Over Me: Looking for God in Natural Disasters (ed. N. De Flon and J. Wallace [Paulist, 2007]).

Richard’s more recent work includes contributions on Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy in Liturgy Training Publication’s forthcoming anniversary volume on Sacrosanctum Concilium and three chapters in A Commentary on the Order of Mass of “The Roman Missal, edited by E. Foley, J. Baldovin, M. Collins, and J. Pierce (Liturgical Press, 2011). His articles have appeared in Liturgical MinistryLiturgyProceedings of the North American Academy of LiturgyJournal of Hispanic/Latino TheologyHugoye: Journal of Syriac StudiesThe Living LightEmmanuelThe Bible Today, and Assembly. He was a contributor to the revised New Catholic Encyclopedia, for which he also served as an assistant editor (1999–2000). Richard served as co-editor of New Theology Review (2006–2011) and is now editor of the Proceedings of the North American Academy of Liturgy.

Richard is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, the Societas Liturgica, the Catholic Academy of Liturgy, and the Catholic Theological Society of America.

Books written by Richard McCarron

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