19Jun 19th June. Thursday in the 11th Week

1) Sirach 48:1-14

(The prophet Elijah is praised for the wonders of his life. He will return before the messianic era.)

Then Elijah arose, a prophet like fire,
and his word burned like a torch.
He brought a famine upon them,
and by his zeal he made them few in number.
By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens,
and also three times brought down fire.

How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You raised a corpse from death
and from Hades, by the word of the Most High.
You sent kings down to destruction,
and famous men, from their sickbeds.
You heard rebuke at Sinai
and judgments of vengeance at Horeb.
You anointed kings to inflict retribution,
and prophets to succeed you.

You were taken up by a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with horses of fire.
At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined
to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the hearts of parents to their children,
and to restore the tribes of Jacob.
Happy are those who saw you
and were adorned with your love!
For we also shall surely live.

When Elijah was enveloped in the whirlwind,
Elisha was filled with his spirit.
He performed twice as many signs,
and marvels with every utterance of his mouth.
Never in his lifetime did he tremble before any ruler,
nor could anyone intimidate him at all.
Nothing was too hard for him,
and when he was dead, his body prophesied.
In his life he did wonders,
and in death his deeds were marvellous.

Gospel: Matthew 6:7-15

(Prayer ought to be brief like the Our Father and in a spirit of forgiveness.)

Jesus said, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Seeing others in the best light

When the wise teacher, Ben Sirach, wrote for his students a series of glowing vignettes about the Jewish heroes of the past, naturally he focussed upon their merits and glossed over their foibles and faults. Certainly he paints Elijah in the best possible light, as  a prophet like fire, radiant with God’s light, who powerfully displayed the divine majesty and upheld true religion in a time of widespread paganism. What might an Elijah perform for the restoration of profound faith here in Ireland today, or around the developed areas of our world?

Relatives and friends of those priests of Ba’al who were slain by fire at the behest of the raging prophet, might have a different perception of Elijah to share with us, a man of violent rage and indomitable conviction, for whom the modern notions of tolerance and ecumenism would be of no account. The most kindly term that could be used of him in the modern media would be “extremist”!

It is interesting to note that while Elijah is several times mentioned favourably in the Gospels, it is never with reference to the bloody clash of values upon Mount Carmel. Rather, he is honoured for his fidelity to God, and for his compassion towards the widow during the famine. And we can hope that in the latter part of his life, this fiery prophet, tempered by the experience of exile in the wilderness, had learned to incorporate a milder spirit of forgiveness, like that commended in our Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount.