Call and Response
The call/response structure connecting today’s Readings made me think specifically about the hearing-impaired Catholics in our Archdiocese and the pastoral response to their needs. For example, are our catechetical programmes designed to facilitate catechesis of the hearing impaired? How are the hearing impaired evangelised in the Archdiocese? Is the local Church fully inclusive?
Notwithstanding those ruminations, the idea that a relationship could be maintained with God who will take care of us, who will respond to our cries, and who embraces all underscores the focus this meditation places on the narratives of the First, Second and Gospel passages for this Sunday.
The First Reading for today (1Kgs 19:9, 11–13) is excerpted from The First Book of Kings, Section V appropriately labelled ‘The Elijah Cycle’ and comprising six sub-sections spanning chapters 17 to 22. The reading is located in the second sub-section, Chapter 19, entitled ‘Elijah at Horeb’, but the chapter as a whole depicts Elijah fleeing for his life from Jezebel, wife of Ahab, under whose reign the action of the Elijah Cycle occurs. Throughout the cycle, Elijah is imaged as a chosen instrument, called by Yahweh, the text indicating that “the hand of Yahweh was on Elijah” (1Kgs 18:46).
In the scene immediately preceding today’s First Reading, Elijah has fled for his life with his servant whom he leaves in Beersheba, a town of Judah before going on “into the wilderness, a day’s journey, and sitting under a furze bush wished he were dead” (1Kgs 19:4). In such moment of despair, Elijah called on Yahweh lamenting, “I have had enough. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1Kgs19:4–5) and then “he lay down and went to sleep” (1Kgs 19:5).
During that sleep, an angel awakened Elijah on two consecutive occasions to eat but at the second time, the angel added that the journey would be long and so Elijah “got up and drank, and strengthened by that food he walked for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1Kgs 19:7–8).
This is where the opening for today’s First Reading is situated: “Elijah went into the cave and spent the night in it” (1Kgs 19:9). In the Bible, however, that statement is followed by a dialogue which not only demonstrates the call/response structure evident in the readings today but also facilitates a connection with the Second Reading taken from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Relative to the call/response motif, and according to the Jerusalem Bible, Popular Edition, while Elijah was in the cave, “the word of Yahweh came to him saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I am filled with jealous zeal for Yahweh Sabaoth, because the sons of Israel have deserted you, broken down your altars and put your prophets to the sword. I am the only one left, and they want to kill me’” (1Kgs 19:11). The response to Elijah’s call? – “Go out and stand on the mountain before Yahweh” (1Kgs 19:11) where, to use the words of today’s reading, “the Lord himself went by,” not as a mighty wind, nor an earthquake, nor as fire but as “the sound of a gentle breeze” (1Kgs 19:13).
Significantly, it is only upon hearing that sound that “Elijah covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1Kgs 19:13), a response that resonates with the idea of personal knowledge, faith and hearing as explicated by Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei (2013): “Knowledge linked to a word is always personal knowledge; it recognises the voice of the one speaking, opens up to that person in freedom and follows him or her in obedience … Faith is also … a knowledge assimilated only along a journey of discipleship. The experience of hearing can thus help to bring out more clearly the bond between knowledge and love” (p 26).
Such bond is depicted in the Second Reading when Paul asserts to the Romans that he “would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help [his] brothers of Israel, [his] own flesh and blood” (Rom 9:3–4). Like Elijah’s call to Yahweh, Paul’s call illuminates the extent to which he was prepared to sacrifice himself for the conversion of his “brothers,” albeit in a manner similar to that of Moses in Exodus 32:31-–32: “‘I am grieved,’ Moses cried, ‘this people has committed a grave sin, making themselves a god of gold. And yet, if it pleased you to forgive this sin of theirs…! But if not, then blot me out from the book that you have written.’”
Additionally, in the same way that Yahweh responded by giving assurance of Moses’ chosen and favoured status (Ex 32:33–34), Paul also gives assurance of God’s inclusive love by quoting exactly what God says in Hosea: I shall say to a people that was not mine, ‘You are my people’, and to a nation I never loved, ‘I love you’. Instead of being told, ‘You are no people of mine’, they will now be called the sons of the living God.”
The Gospel for today bears out this all-embracing love in its call/response narrative about Jesus who, alone on one side of the sea of Galilee where he had gone “up into the hills by himself to pray” (Mt 14:23) witnessed the disciples far out on the lake “battling with a heavy sea” (Mt 14:24) and decided to walk towards them on the lake, no doubt to assist them.
The unusual sight of Jesus walking on water was terrifying so in response to Peter’s challenge to his identity, Jesus said one word to him: “Come” (Mt 14:29). Peter responded confidently at first “but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink” (Mt 14:30–31). In his floundering fear, Peter cried out “Lord! Save me!” at which “Jesus put out his hand at once and held him” (Mt 14:31–32).
What a comforting image!
The Gospel reflections for August are by Rose-Ann Walker, a parishioner of the Santa Rosa Cluster and a Lay Dominican.