(1 Kings 19:9-18, Psalm 85:8-13, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33)
Today we read about the prophet Elijah who is hiding from Queen Jezebel. Elijah had miraculously called down fire from God, something which the priests of Ba'al had failed to do. The people of Israel, temporarily repentant, proceeded to massacre the pagans, which infuriated the queen. Threatened by her with death, he flees. After eating a miracle meal of bread and drink, he traveled forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb. This is the same mountain God made His covenant with Israel and Moses. There are many parallels to the Book of Exodus, culminating with the "theophanic" strong wind, earthquake and fire; however, unlike Exodus, the Lord is not in these mighty events of nature. Instead, it is the quiet, still voice, which reveals the Lord.
Elijah, discouraged and afraid, complains that he is alone in serving God. Frustrated and hopeless, he asks to die. God responds with a question, “What are you doing here?” Elijah the zealot is wrong, he is not alone. God is with him, but more to the point there are 7,000 who have not bent the knee to Ba’al. Seven thousand is probably a symbolic number; there are lots of faithful people. Lie Elijah, some we feel sorry for ourselves and condemn others. Often times we run and hide from the Lord. “What are you doing here?” God asks us, each day, wherever we might be. Here, in this place, am I running away or keeping the faith?
Faith is a big word in the Hebrew language. It means to believe, to trust and to entrust ourselves to God. Faith means we are loyal and trustworthy in response to God. Faith means never having to say, “I give up,” because God is faithful so we need to be as well. So faith is a gift, but it is also a task.
In Matthew’s Gospel, earlier in the day the disciples saw Jesus miraculously feed thousands. Now, rowing in the dark night on a stormy sea they are getting nowhere. We, like them, are in a boat—the universal church—which often expends much energy with nothing to show for our efforts. Suddenly, Jesus appears, but paradoxically he terrifies them. “Take heart,” He calls to them, “it is I, stop being afraid.”
These words are at the core of the Jesus story. He is here for us, no need to worry or fear. It is the message which Elijah must never forget, it is a word the disciples must never forget, and it is the truth which we must always remember and treasure in our hearts.
Peter shows his faith, he believes and trusts Jesus, not theoretically but in action. Jumping out of the boat and walking on water—this is faith, but even as the impossible happens Peter is buffeted with wind, waves and doubt. We all know what it feels to begin in faith only to sink in fear and disbelief. Faith is not a one-time event, it is a lifetime commitment! “Why don’t you believe?” Jesus asks Peter, and us. “Don’t you have any faith?”
Faith is entrusting and trusting. Today’s psalm is a perfect example of faith because of the oddities of the Hebrew language. Robert Alter (The Book of Psalms, p300) says of Psalm 85, that "there is scarcely a more striking example in the Bible of the temporal ambiguity or fluidity of Hebrew words." It can be read as past tense or future. This means that, in a sense, in Hebrew we are both asking God to give us and declaring that He already has at the same time! This is how we must pray, confident that our Lord has done, is doing and will do all we need.
But prayer that God will be gracious to the land and to His people is connected to relationship. The Lord saves those who belong to Him. The Lord turns back from His anger and pours out mercy and salvation to the people who turn back to Him. It is given and received heart to heart, His to ours. Our loving trust and faithful obedience are the open venue for redemption, healing and blessing!
Two divine questions:
What are you doing here?
Why don’t you trust?
One divine declaration:
Take heart, it is I. Repent and return to Me, do not fear. My salvation is for all those who love me and are united with me.