- Ben Sira 48:1-4, 9-11
- Matthew 17:9A, 10-13
In the RSV and the NABRE with other Mass texts.*
And Elias the prophet stood up, as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch. He brought a famine upon them, and they that provoked him in their envy, were reduced to a small number, for they could not endure the commandments of the Lord.
Et surrexit Elias propheta quasi ignis, et verbum ipsius quasi facula ardebat. Qui induxit in illos famem: et irritantes illum invidia sua pauci facti sunt: non enim poterant sustinere praecepta Domini.
Ben Sira 48:1-2
Advent is a time of hope – but also rightly of fear. God is coming among us. This can’t be all good. Christmas is not only a time of remembrance, it is a time of forgetting all the reasons that God’s presence among us is terrifying. It’s a busy season for Prophets: because each one has a job to do, and the Christmas season not only reminds us of the Babe in the Manger, but also helps us forget the children whose unseen hands strung our lights, and glued the tinsel to our tree. Profits increase and souls are lost: we need Prophets.
I noted yesterday that even those who reject “organized religion” seem to, of their own, create organized religion; even if the process involves making religious claims out of atheism, or dogmatic demands out of relativism. We do this because we are naturally religious. We are created this way with, as Augustine noted, hearts that are restless until they rest in God. We will try many things until we find the one that fits – and there is only one that will work, finally. But we are cursed to try. We will try everything, sometimes.
Elijah’s job is to stop all that. One at a time or all at once, you can’t go that way… that’s a failure. Turn around or fire will rain down. Come back or a famine will follow. Jesus says that John was Elijah. You see: anyone who gives the prophetic warnings – and makes them stick – can be Elijah. Yet prophets die. If they do their job right, they are so damned annoying that they get killed. Every time.
I’m disinclined to believe in what is called “American Exceptionalism”. I don’t think this place is all that special. It’s certainly not doing anything today that Rome wasn’t doing 2000 years ago: trying to run the world and suck all the resources into the center of our cities. At the same time keeping millions of people enslaved because we’ve ruined their cultures and environments so that they have nothing else to do except make our shoes that we can can sell for $1. Apart from that function as a Roman Surrogate, America is not special at all.
Yet we do have a second special roll, as of a Pharisee, standing up and saying, “I thank thee God that I am not like other countries…” And to the extent that we claim to be first in God’s eyes and duties, God will hit us hard.
Let me say that again, more plainly: we are a nation who can’t go to Church, won’t obey God’s rules for sex and marriage, and murder babies in the womb, all in the name of “freedom”. We dump our garbage and our poor (in the persons of our military) on the ravaged world. We reject the stranger, insist that businesses have the right to oppress their workers, leave the hungry and the homeless on our streets, abandon the poor to their Vick’s Vapo-Rub and their Theraflu – and yet we dare to call ourselves a “Christian Nation”. Every time we do that without moving our laws more Christward, we ensure the wrath to come will be both excruciating for us and true tidings of comfort and joy for our enemies.
I laughed when it was announced that the American intelligence community thinks a foreign power may have tampered with our election. Why should not our laws be changed to reflect what we have done to the laws in other countries? Why should not our businesses be able to treat American workers in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco as they have treated workers in Manila, Taipei, and Seoul with our blessing?
Goose and gander: we get what we deserve. These are the days of Elijah.
And yet… and yet. If God’s call to repentance is heeded. Elijah will reconcile the heart of the Father to his Son… that is, us: the tribes of the New Jacob. It may suck. It may be hard, but the rest of the world has survived and grown strong in their faith. Maybe we will too.
*I cannot offer these readings fully in the Douay because my usual source for Bible Texts is broken in Chapter 48 of Sirach! So here is Chapter 48 of Ecclesiasticus and Matthew 17 from another source. The readings are highlighted in yellow.