Our first reading today takes place at Mt. Horeb, which is just another name for Mt. Sinai, where God gave Moses the Law. It is like “Lady Bird Lake” and “Town Lake” are two names for the same body of water, or Mopac and Loop 1 are two names for the same road, so Horeb and Sinai are two names for the exact same mountain.
We find the Prophet Elijah there. Mt Sinai is quite a ways from Israel. What is Elijah doing there? He is hiding. Elijah is on the run from the evil Queen Jezebel. She is out to kill him, and Elijah is scarred. It is worth while reading the whole story in the First Book of Kings. Anyway, Elijah is scarred, defeated, disgusted, and cowering in a cave on Mt. Horeb.
For Elijah to stop hiding and continue serving as God’s prophet he needs a boost, a total reboot, something to get him out of hiding in the ground and to go do his prophetic duty. So God is going to encounter Elijah, and thus energize him to continue his mission. That is the setting of our first reading.
Elijah goes out to meet God. First there is “a strong and heavy wind”, so strong it rending the mountains and crushing rocks. You could not ignore this wind. It was strong and powerful and unavoidable. A hurricane! It was very definite. But, God was not in the wind.
Then there was an earthquake. It is pretty hard to ignore an earthquake, especially a big one. You KNOW when a earthquake happens. It is pretty much in-your-face. But, God was not in the earthquake.
Then there was fire! Again fire is attention getting, clear and pronounced. You don’t walk through a fire and not notice it. You don’t ignore fire. It is pretty obvious. But, God was not there either.
How much easier it would be if God only came to us with clear, dramatic effects that really got our attention. If God would only appear to us with Imax 3-D and Dobly surround-sound and huge, explosive, attention-grabbing wonders!!! Then belief would be easy.
One of the early Roman critics of Christianity asked, “¿if Jesus is truly raised and is a god, why doesn’t he just appear in glory before the Roman Senate, clearly and unambiguously, and then we would all believe in him?” That is a good question. Why not make it clear and obvious, removing all doubt?
But faith doesn’t work that way. Why is faith so thin, so tenuous, so easy to miss, so iffy? //
St Paul in our second reading wrestles with the fact that his compatriots, the Jews, whom St Paul loves, did not respond in faith to Jesus as Messiah. It is a problem that vexes St Paul. He says: “theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ.” They have all this and still,they didn’t see it, they didn’t hear it, they didn’t get faith in Christ.
Today we know people who went to Catholic grade school, and even Catholic high school, who grew up in faith-filled homes, maybe even have uncles who are bishops and aunts who are nuns, and yet, faith never took root in them. Like St. Paul we wonder why, and we wish we knew what we could do to help them come to faith in Jesus as the Christ.
But Faith is difficult to achieve. It is not obvious. // It would not be faith if Jesus asks us to come to Him across the paved parking lot. It would be easy, but it wouldn’t be faith. But to walk across the waves? That is faith.
Faith is risky, because it is NOT a sure thing. A genuine adult faith is a risk. It means getting out into the deep waters of life, where the wind and the waves are strong, where life-long commitments are made, where forgiveness and generosity and compassion make more sense than greed and self-centeredness, where everything is less sure and more iffy, and then doing the foolish thing of getting out of the boat and walking towards Jesus.
Faith means walking with gratitude and compassion when fear is all around us, ready to drown us.
Faith means moving forward in acceptance and tolerance and peace, when the waves of pandemic and economic hardship whip up hatred, racism, homophobia, nativism and anti-immigrant intolerance all around us.
Faith means believing when the Church does stupid things, when the music is insipid, the preaching dull, and our fellow Christians are unattractive.
Faith means not looking for big, concrete, clear observable proofs, but rather listening for that faint, difficult to discern, “tiny whispering sound”, in our heart.
It ain’t easy. But with faith you can walk on water. Today Jesus says to us: “Come.”