Biblical faith always makes room for
"wrong turns." Sunday's three readings presume such events will
certainly take place.
Though most homilists will comment on the line
in the first reading (I Kings 19: 9, 11-13) that describes Yahweh speaking
to Elijah in "a tiny, whispering sound," few will help their
communities reflect on the verses immediately before and after.
Running for his life, the prophet starts at Mt.
Carmel on Israel's northern border and comes as far south as you can go
and still be in the Holy Land: Beersheba.
Yahweh's angel finds him a day's journey
south in the wilderness and twice provides him with a "hearth cake and
a jug of water," strengthening him to walk "forty days and forty
nights to the mountain of God, Horeb (Sinai)." Then, after Elijah
recognizes God's whispering voice, Yahweh asks an unexpected question:
"Elijah, why are you here?"
Not happy about the prophet's presence in the
Sinai, Yahweh sends him back north, beyond Mt. Carmel, "to the desert
near Damascus." A quick look at a map of Israel and its surroundings
shows that Elijah traveled hundreds of miles in the wrong direction - by
Anyone can make a mistake and take a wrong
turn. But the key to understanding the sacred author's theology revolves
around the fact that Yahweh helped Elijah take that turn. Remember the
angelic hearth cake and jug of water?
Paul reflects on a similar experience (Rom 9:
1-5). In accepting the risen Jesus in his life, the Apostle realizes he's
going down a different road from mainstream Judaism. It's in this section
of his letter that he speculates on why this split is happening.
Certain that his fellow Jews didn't develop
their faith and religion on their own, Paul acknowledges that Yahweh has
been guiding them through the centuries.
"They are Israelites; theirs the adoption,
the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the
Even the Messiah comes from them. Yet they're
going in a direction in which Yahweh no longer wants them to travel.
That disturbs Paul so deeply that he reaches a
point where he'd almost prefer to be separated from Jesus than to be
separated from his Jewish brothers and sisters. God has once again helped
someone take a wrong turn.
Matthew narrates a similar story (Mt 14:
22-33). When the disciples see Jesus coming toward them, walking on the sea
during the fourth watch of a stormy night, "they were terrified."
Still, Peter is courageous enough to ask, "Lord, if it is you, command
me to come to you on the water." Jesus simply says, "Come!"
Eyes on Jesus
Peter quickly discovers he's stepped into
uncharted territory. "When he saw how strong the wind was, he became
frightened; and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!'"
Matthew tells us why Jesus would call Peter to
step into such chaos, knowing he'd sink: "Jesus immediately stretched
out His hand, caught him, and said to him, 'O, you of little faith, why
did you doubt?'"
Peter sinks because he breaks his concentration
on Jesus. His noticing the wind and waves more than Jesus provides Matthew
with a terrific theological point. Christians can definitely go in the wrong
direction only when they take their eyes off Jesus.
Even the I Kings author agrees that Yahweh will
eventually get us to the right place as long as we continue to search for
God's word in our life. Even more so, Paul, because of Jesus in his life,
can't continue down the path his fellow Jews are traveling.
Being one with Jesus and knowing Jesus' word
will always guarantee we'll end up where God wants us to be, even if God
helps us take a roundabout way to get there.