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(Part 7)


December 11, 2010

Today’s readings
Sirach 48:1-11
Psalm 80:2-19
Matthew 17:10-13

Elijah is unique among the great prophets. He was the only human who was brought up to heaven alive.[1] In fact, he went in a burst of glory, “taken aloft in a whirlwind, in a chariot with fiery horses.” (Sir 48:9). Impressive! During his lifetime, God used him mightily. Elijah “shut up the heavens and three times brought down fire. (He) brought a dead man back to life ..... (He) sent kings down to destruction” (Sir 48:3,5a,6a). What power!

Elijah was a powerful instrument of God. In God’s time and in God’s way, “like a fire there appeared the prophet whose words were as a flaming furnace.” (Sir 48:1). Rightly then do we look in awe upon Elijah. “How awesome are you, Elijah! Whose glory is equal to yours?” (Sir 48:4). Such is the case with a person chosen and used by God for His own purposes. He steps into God’s place, and experiences the strength and power of the awesome Almighty.

What was the task of Elijah, in speaking as God’s prophet and acting as God’s instrument? “You are destined, it is written, in time to come to put an end to wrath before the day of the Lord, to turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons, and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.” (Sir 48:10).

Elijah was first of all to pave the way for reconciliation between God and His people. God’s people had transgressed and thus suffered the consequences (Ps 80:6-7). God’s people asked that He turn away from His wrath. “Lord of hosts, how long will you burn with anger while your people pray?” (Ps 80:5). Elijah’s task, as God’s instrument, was to “guide the flock of Joseph” and to “reveal (God) to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.” (Ps 80:2-3a). In this way, God’s people would be restored and saved (Ps 80:4,8).

Secondly, Elijah would turn back the hearts of fathers towards their sons, and vice versa (Mal 3:24a). The reconciliation and restoration God wanted was not only between Him and His people, but among family members. God established the family to reflect His goodness and to be the basic unit of society. God would work through the family. But in order to be able to use the family, its members needed to be in right relationship with each other.

Finally, the third task of Elijah was to re-establish the tribes of Jacob. God wanted the restoration of His covenant people. God had raised Israel in order to reflect His light to the world, so the world would see what God could do with a slave people, raising them to great heights of power and influence. Thus would they praise the God of Israel. With a right relationship of His people with Him, with their own family relationships in place, God could again use His people to bring His light to the world.

What does all this tell us? God is about people being in right relationship to Him, God is about family renewal, God is about raising and restoring a covenant people, and God is about the evangelization of the world, using a people that He has raised.

Does that look familiar to you? It should. It is the very same call to us as CFC-FFL. Look at your covenant card. It has four main aspects: a personal relationship with God, putting family life in order, building community, and serving the world. The plan of God is carried out in ever-widening circles: first the individual, then the family, then the community (the family of families), then the world.

And what is all this for? To prepare the world for the second coming of Christ.

The Jews awaited the return of Elijah (Mt 17:10), because that would precede the coming of the Messiah. Then their prayer for restoration would be answered and their hope fulfilled (Ps 80).

Now Jesus said something startling. First he affirmed Elijah’s task. “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things.” (Mt 17:11). Then he said that Elijah has already come, and he is John the Baptist (Mt 17:12-13).

And what was the task of John the Baptist? He was to prepare the way for the Lord. Just as was the task of Elijah. And just as our own task is.

God uses human instruments. And since God gives humans divine work, since such work is all about the eternal salvation of souls, since such work is about preparing for the coming in glory of His own Son Jesus, then God empowers those whom He uses.

The Israelites had prayed for God to send a Davidic king to lead them to victory and to restore them to God’s favor. Thus they prayed: “May your help be with the man at your right hand, with the one whom you once made strong.” (Ps 80:18). The RSV version says: “But let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!” (Ps 80:17). The right hand of God is power. God passes on that power, to make His instrument strong for His own purposes.

The call to Elijah, the call to John the Baptist, is the very same call to us. It is a call to personal holiness, to family renewal, to building up the body that is an army, and to the work of worldwide evangelization. If such is the task, then the enemy will vigorously oppose us. And the enemy can bring us down, just as he did with God’s very own covenanted people Israel. Thus we need to very might of God.

Such power was given to Elijah. Such might was given to John the Baptist. Such strength will also be given to us, to help us fulfill our task, and to help prepare the way for the Lord.

Let us conform our lives to God’s ways and God’s will. Then we can rightly claim, “My God is now my strength!”

* * *

[1] Some tradition has it that Mary did not die but was taken to heaven alive.

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