19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13
All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind. That is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: God's Presence in
Times of Fear and Affliction
In our readings, God makes Himself present to His faithful amid frightening events. In the First Reading, the prophet Elijah felt he had failed in his mission to call the covenant people to repentance. He sank into a deep depression, and he asked God to let him die. God took pity on His prophet and gave him the strength and encouragement he needed through an intimate encounter with God's Divine Presence. It is the same way God welcomes each of us to come to Him and receive comfort and reassurance when we feel alone and afflicted by the struggles in our lives.
The Responsorial Psalm tells us that God's salvation is near to those who hope in Him. God revealed Himself to the children of Israel as the One abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness who offered the promise of salvation beyond their temporal lives. The Fathers of the Church saw in God's promise of a future salvation the Incarnation of the Divine Word, the union of Godhead and human nature in Jesus Christ.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes of enduring the pain of persecution from his Jewish kinsmen for the sake of the Gospel. When we face trials and affliction on our faith journeys through life, we must trust that He who has called us to walk His path to eternal salvation will comfort us in the midst of our affliction.
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus sends the disciples into a storm on the Sea of Galilee. He uses the storm to reveal His Divine identity in His power over nature as He walks upon the sea, saves Peter from sinking into turbulent waters, and calms the storm. We have God's assurance that we can find Him in the storms and struggles of life, especially in the trials and opposition we encounter trying to do His will. Christ continually reaches out to us; all we have to do is to believe, reach out to Him in the obedience of faith, and receive His salvation.
The First Reading 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13 ~ God Comforts His
9a At the mountain of God, Horeb, Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter.
11 Then the LORD said to him, "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by." A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind. 12 After the wind there was an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. 13 When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
This passage contains God's Divine Name, YHWH, (rendered LORD in the translation), repeated seven times. In the symbolic significance of numbers in Scripture, the number seven represents fullness and completion; it is also the number of the Holy Spirit (see the document about the symbolic significance of numbers in Scripture. YHWH (Yahweh) is God's divine covenant name, first invoked in the Biblical account by Eve (Gen 4:1) and the name by which God told Moses all generations in covenant with Him should know Him (Ex 3:15).
God's prophet Elijah had fulfilled his mission in defeating the pagan priests of Baal, offering proof to the people that Yahweh was the One True God (chapter 18). His victory only made Jezebel, the pagan queen of King Ahab of Israel, hate the prophets of God more, and she threatened Elijah's life.
Elijah's contest with the priests of Baal, the murders of so many brother prophets by wicked Queen Jezebel, and the continuing apostasy of the covenant people left him in a state of physical and emotional collapse. Elijah sank into a state of deep depression. He stopped eating and prayed for death (1 Kng 19:4). God took pity on His prophet and sent an angel to feed Elijah until he was strong enough to travel forty days to Mount Sinai/Horeb (1 Kng 19:8). God sent him to the place where He first established His covenant with Israel to remind the prophet that what was at stake was more than the success or failure of one prophet.
Once he arrived at the mountain, God told Elijah to stand in a cave to await the coming of his God. He stood in the in the midst of a mighty wind, an earthquake, and fire before he heard a tiny whispering sound (verses 11-12). The wind, earthquake, and fire were manifestations of God's great power and sovereignty over the earth, as in the theophany the Israelites experienced at their rendezvous with Yahweh at Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:18). But the "tiny whispering sound" was a manifestation of God's gentle Spirit that calls mankind to salvation. When the prophet heard the whispering sound, he realized God's Divine Presence was about to pass by, and so he covered his face and stepped forward to the entrance of the cave to be renewed by the experience of the special intimacy of God's Divine Presence.
Elijah covered his face (verse 13) because he knew from the Pentateuch of Moses, which recorded a similar experience Moses had in an intimate encounter with the Divine, that no human being could see the face of God and remain alive (Ex 33:18-23). Man could see God's glory as reflected in creation and the signs of His Divine Presence like the Glory Cloud (e.g. Ex 13:21-22). However, before the coming of God the Son, sinful man could not behold the glory of God and remain alive. God knows our strengths and our weaknesses, and when He calls us to fulfill a mission, our success does not depend on our strength and courage but our willing obedience to His call. It is in Jesus Christ that God has revealed Himself to mankind, to offer us His loving compassion and the gift of our eternal salvation.
Jesus "is the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15). Jesus told the Apostles that those who had seen Him had also seen the Father: Jesus said ... No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him" (Jn 14:6-7). Today we experience intimacy with God in Sacred Scripture, in our prayers, in the Eucharist, and in the face of every person with whom we share the love of Jesus Christ.
Responsorial Psalm 85:9-14 ~ God's Salvation is Near to Those Who Fear Him
The response is: "Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation."
9 I will hear what
God proclaims; the LORD—for he proclaims peace. 10 Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory
dwelling in our land.
11 Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. 12 Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.
13 The LORD himself will give his benefits; our land shall yield its increase. 14 Justice shall walk before him, and prepare the way of his steps
Psalm 85 is a hymn proclaiming God's goodness to His covenant people. God brings inner peace to those who draw near to Him. God assures the covenant people in verse 10 that He loves them: Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him ... You may ask "What does fear have to do with love?" Fear in this sense means fear of offending our God who we love with all our heart and soul. If you truly love, you express signs of your love in fellowship and harmony. We do not set out to offend and hurt those we truly love. We offend God and diminish our love for Him when we are disobedient to His commands and the teachings of God the Son as taught by mother Church. Our sins separate us from fellowship with God, from communion with our brothers and sisters in the family of God, and are evidence of a lack of love.
11 Kindness [hesed] and
truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.
The God revealed Himself to Israel as the one "abounding in steadfast love (hesed in Hebrew means "covenant love") and faithfulness" (Ex 34:6). The Fathers of the Church saw in verse 10-11 the promise of the Incarnation of the Divine Word, the union of Godhead and human nature in Jesus Christ. St. Athanasius wrote: "Truth and mercy embrace in the truth which came into the world through the ever-virgin Mother of God" (Expositio in Psalmos, 84).
12 Truth shall
spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven. 13 The LORD himself will give his benefits; our
land shall yield its increase. 14 Justice
shall walk before him, and prepare the way of his steps
Using the imagery of fruit produced by rainfall and the fertility of the earth in verses 12-13, the psalmist proclaims that salvation comes through God's steadfast love and forgiveness. His forgiveness will come down from heaven (verse 12), and on the earth the people will live in justice, keeping their vows of fidelity. In His works and in His words (verses 13-14), "God displays not only His kindness, goodness, grace, and steadfast love, but also His trustworthiness, constancy, faithfulness, and truth ... He is the Truth, for 'God is light and in Him there is no darkness'; 'God is love,'..." (CCC 214 quoting 1 Jn 1:5). God reveals His mercy to the people He chose for Himself. In the course of their unfolding history, the people of Israel, when facing misfortune and in times of restoration and prosperity, entrusted themselves to the God of mercy and love. St. John Paul II wrote, "All the subtleties of love became manifest in the Lord's mercy towards those who are His own" (Dives in misericordia, 4).
God granted His mercy and salvation to the "sons of Korah" who are traditionally attributed as the authors of this psalm. The sons of the traitor Korah understood God's forgiveness and mercy. They were the descendants of a Levite who led a rebellion against Aaron and the chief priests of the ministerial priesthood (Num chapter 16). God destroyed Korah along with members of his family and others who followed him in the rebellion, but the young children in Korah's family did not bear the curse of their father/grandfather (Num 26:10-11). In David and Solomon's time, the descendants of Korah became the Temple's chief liturgists and choir masters (see the titles of Ps 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87, 88).
The Second Reading Romans 9:1-5 ~ Paul's Sorrow
and His confidence in Israel's Divine Prerogatives
"1 This is the truth and I am speaking in Christ, without pretense, as my conscience testifies for me in the Holy Spirit; 2 there is great sorrow and unremitting agony in my heart: 3 I could pray that I myself might be accursed and cut off from Christ, if this could benefit the brothers who are my own flesh and blood, 4 They are Israelites; it was they who were adopted as children, the glory was theirs and the covenants; to them were given the Law and the worship of God and the promises. 5 To them belong the fathers and out of them, so far as physical descent is concerned, came Christ who is above all, God, blessed forever. Amen
In the first two verses of this passage, St. Paul expresses the pain of his rejection by his fellow Jews. He also writes of his longing for the salvation of all his "brothers," the Jews, who are the "firstborn" sons of the Old Covenant, and his desire for them to come to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. These are Jews who have accused Paul of abandoning his people. St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, advised Paul on this problem when Paul visited Jerusalem in the spring of AD 58, after this letter was written and delivered to the Christians in Rome. St. James told Paul, You see, brother, how thousands of Jews have now become believers, all of them staunch upholders of the Law; and what they have heard about you is that you instruct all Jews living among the gentiles to break away from Moses, authorizing them not to circumcise their children or to follow the customary practices (Acts 21:20-21). Knowing these things are being said about him, Paul refutes the accusations that he has abandoned his people. In verse 3, Paul states he is willing to offer his life as a sacrifice if it brings his Israelite and Jewish brothers into the New Covenant in Jesus the Messiah.
Compare what Paul writes in Romans 9:1-3 with what he wrote in 8:31-39. What he writes in our passage is not a contradiction of his former words. The Chapter 8 passage deals with God's love and faithfulness, and his statement in Chapter 9 testifies to Paul's willing sacrifice of himself for the sake of the salvation of his kinsmen. In fact, the two statements complement one another. God's faithfulness and love for us moves us to love others with His same intensity—to the point at which we should be willing, as Christ was willing, to suffer anything in order to bring salvation to others in need of God's gift of salvation.
4 They are Israelites; it was they who were adopted as children, the glory was theirs and the covenants; to them were given the Law and the worship of God and the promises. 5 To them belong the fathers and out of them, so far as physical descent is concerned, came Christ [Messiah] who is above all, God, blessed forever. Amen (underlining added for emphasis)
In this part of his letter, St. Paul reminds the Roman Christian congregation of Jews and Gentiles that Yahweh is faithful to His covenants. God selected the children of Israel from all the nations of the earth to be His chosen people whose mission was to move forward His divine plan for mankind's salvation. Paul lists the eight divinely instituted prerogatives that uniquely characterize the covenant bond between Yahweh and Israel in verse 4:
Israel's Divinely Instituted Prerogatives as Yahweh's Chosen People
Notice that Paul writes "covenants" in the plural in verse 4 (also see Sir 44:12, 18; Wis 18:22; 2 Mac 8:15). See the chart on Yahweh's Eight Covenants.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI [the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger], commenting on Romans 9 and the link between the people of Israel and God's covenants wrote: "In chapter 9 of Romans, Paul sings the praises of Israel: among God's gifts to his people are 'the covenants', and according to the Wisdom tradition they are a plurality. [...]. Paul is well aware that, prior to the Christian history of salvation, the word 'covenant' had to be understood and spoken of in the plural; out of these various covenants he selects two particularly, sets them up in mutual opposition, and refers each one to the covenant in Christ: these are the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with Moses" (Many Religions, One Covenant, page 55). Also see CCC#s 60; 762; 218-19.
In Romans 1:16, Paul acknowledged that the Gospel of salvation was intended for the Jew first: For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the Jew first, and then the Greek..., and Jesus instructed the woman of Samaria in His encounter with her at the well of Sychar, for salvation comes from the Jews (Jn 4:22c). But this preeminence of the Jew in God's plan of salvation has now become the problem. In Chapter 3, Paul asked the question: If Israel is the chosen people of God and the ones meant to receive the gift of salvation, then how can it be that many have refused that path to salvation? In the first century AD, only a faithful remnant of the Jews of the old Israel embraced the New Covenant of the Messiah Jesus and His Gospel of salvation to form Jesus' Kingdom of the "new Israel" that is the universal Church (CCC 877).
What is the meaning of this rejection by the Jews? What is its significance in the historical election of Israel as the first among many nations? What about the irrevocable promises Yahweh made to His chosen people: to their forefathers the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to Israel as the first, unified covenant people at Mt. Sinai? In Romans Chapter 4, Paul made a reference to those promises, but he only referred to them as they were related to Abraham's justification by faith contrasted with works of the old Law. Now Paul returns to the foundational promises made to Abraham and applies those promises to the question of Israel's rejection of the Messiah and the "in gathering" of the Gentile nations of the earth into the New Covenant of salvation in Christ Jesus.
In Romans Chapters 9-11, St. Paul expresses a heart-wrenching yearning for the restoration of a fractured covenant family and develops the short answer he gave to his question in Chapter 3 into a longer discourse. He assures his Jewish Christian audience that no matter how much human beings are unfaithful to their covenant with Yahweh, their unfaithfulness cannot abrogate God's covenant promises. Indeed, the way human beings behave only makes God's righteous promises more remarkable. God's faithfulness, however, does not protect the sinner from God's righteous judgment or absolve his sin (Rom 3:6, 8); we are still held accountable for our actions.
As his letter continues, St. Paul will address the question of Israel's part in the history of salvation and the future of those Jews who still cling to the old Sinai Covenant that was fulfilled by Christ(Heb 8:13; 10:9) and who have rejected the New Covenant in Christ. He will rely heavily on Old Testament Scripture. Paul, who quotes Old Testament Scripture in all of his fourteen letters, quotes over half of his Old Testament passages in his letter to the Romans, and the majority of those Old Testament passages are in the three chapters of Romans 9-11. Paul lists twelve Old Testament quotations the three-part division of this portion of his address on the role of Israel in Salvation History. It is a division in our modern translations that becomes the three Chapters of Romans 9-11. At the end of his discourse on the future of the Jews, Paul will write: ...but as regards those who are God's choice, they are still well loved for the sake of their ancestors. There is no change of mind on God's part about the gifts he has made or his choice (Rom 11:28b-29).
The Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33 ~ Jesus Walks Upon the Sea and Calms the Storm
22 After he fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 After doing so, he went up on the mountain [oros] by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. 24 Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. "It is a ghost," they said, and they cried out in fear. 27 At once spoke to them, "Take courage, it is I [Ego Ami = I AM]; do not be afraid." 28 Peter said to him in reply, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God." [...] = literal Greek translation (IBGE, vol. IV, page 43).
This passage records Jesus' second nature miracle. In the first calming of the storm at sea miracle in Matthew 8:23-27, the disciples ask a question that concerned Jesus' true identity when they said: "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?" In this second nature miracle, they find the answer to that question.
doing so, he went up on the mountain [oros] by himself to pray.
In verse 23, the Greek word oros is the word for "mountain." The word "mountain" has symbolic significance in Scripture since it pertains to revelations of God including:
Jesus withdraws from His disciples to have intimate, private prayer with God the Father. That they are "crossing" the Sea of Galilee and will land on the west side in the land of Gennesaret (Mt 14:34) supports St. Luke's account that the feeding miracle of the five thousand took place on the northeast side of the lake near Bethsaida.
25 During the
fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea.
It is a common occurrence for storms to spring up suddenly on the Sea of Galilee. This storm occurred during the fourth watch of the night. After the Roman occupation of the region which began in 63 BC, the Jews abandoned their three night-watches in favor of the Roman four night-watches. The fourth watch was from 3 AM to dawn and was announced by a trumpet blast called the "cockcrow." See Jesus' list of the four night-watches that began at sundown in Mark 13:35 when He said: "Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning."
26 When the
disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. "It is a ghost," they
said, and they cried out in fear. 27 At
once spoke to them, "Take courage, it is I [literally Ego Ami = I
AM]; do not be afraid."
This time Jesus defies the laws of nature by walking on the waters of the stormy sea. Since this is an impossible act for an ordinary human, at first the disciples think they see a ghost. Jesus calms their fears by calling out "Ego Ami"—I AM. In the Old Testament Greek translation of the Septuagint, the expression Ego Ami functions as the Divine Name (see Ex 3:14; Dt 32:39; Is 41:4 and in chapter 43 ten times: see 43:3, 5, 10, 11, 12 three times, 15, 19, 25 in the literal Hebrew and Greek O.T. text). In Isaiah 43:5 the words of the Divine Name appear along with the command "fear not" or "do not be afraid" as Jesus reassures the disciples in this passage.
28 Peter said
to him in reply, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
29 He said, "Come." Peter
got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
The Fathers of the Church saw the "fourth watch" as having typological significance relating to the four phases of the history of salvation, although they did not agree on the divisions (Sts. Hillary of Poitiers, Chromatius, etc.). Many of the Fathers suggest that it was Jesus' response using the Divine Name "I AM," that prompted Peter to ask to come to Him.
30 But when
he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and beginning to sink,
he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately
Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little
faith, why did you doubt?"
At first, Peter was successful, but when he took his eyes off Jesus to look at the stormy sea, he became frightened and began to sink into the churning water. Peter had two choices: he could try to swim back to the boat, or he could call upon Jesus to save him. Evidence of Peter's faith in Jesus and His confidence in what he knew was Jesus' true identity is found in the fact that Peter cried out to Jesus to save him. St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine identify Peter's crying out to Jesus as an act of repentance for which Jesus rewarded him with salvation (Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 50.2; Augustine, Sermon 75.10).
Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little
faith, why did you doubt?"
Jesus does not so much give Peter a rebuke as a teaching moment, telling Peter in times of peril, do not doubt but believe. It may be significant that this revelation of Jesus' divine nature occurs at the hour of "cockcrow," at 3 AM. It is the same time that Peter will deny the Christ for the third time while the Jewish Sanhedrin was trying and condemning Jesus (Mt 26:65-75): ... And immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: "Before the cockcrow you will deny me three times" (Mt 26:74). In the literal Greek, the verse reads: And immediately cockcrow. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: "Before cockcrow you will deny me three times."
they got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
"Truly, you are the Son of God."
In the first calming of the storm at sea miracle (Mt 8:23-27), the disciples asked: "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?" Now they have their answer: Jesus is the Divine Messiah; only God can control nature. They immediately bowed down in submission, obedience, and worship, using the title "Son of God" in the same sense as the prophets, identifying Jesus as the Davidic Messiah.
In the Bible, the title "son of God" did not necessarily mean divine sonship but could also mean sonship that was adoptive. For example, "son of God" identified certain very intimate relationships between God and His creatures as in the case of:
It is in the usual sense of God's divinely anointed servant that the title "Son of God" is applied to the promised Messiah in Old Testament Scripture (1 Chr 17:13; Ps 2:7; and 89:26). However, in Jesus' identification of Himself as the "I AM" and in His power over nature, the disciples are beginning to understand that Jesus bears the title "Son of God" in a sense not previously applied to other men and having God for a Father in a way others could not claim.
Each of our readings gives us the assurance of God's continuing faithfulness, love, and protection as we make our way through the storms of life. When we take our focus off Christ and attempt to struggle through our difficulties on our own, He is ready to reach out His hand of salvation to pull us out of the swirling abyss of sin into His loving arms. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is our lifeline; we must remember to be like St. Peter and to cry out to Christ to save us!
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13 (CCC 2583)
Psalm 85:11 (CCC 214); 85:12 (CCC 2795)
Romans 9:4-5 (CCC 839)
Matthew 14:30 (CCC 448)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017