When the 450:1 Shot Comes In
At the gambling table there are no fathers and sons.” ~ Chinese Proverb
On the heels of Easter, Pentecost, and the Holy Trinity, three major celebrations of the Catholic Faith, it’s interesting to see how the Church, in her wisdom coupled with the richness and depth of this week’s Gospel selections, “takes us back to school” so to speak.
On Monday we revisited the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) those virtuous traits that, when fully lived out, draw us closer to the perfection of Jesus, for his life was indeed the Beatitudes personified. On Tuesday, Jesus reminds us that we are the “salt of the earth,” (Matthew 5:13-16), called to bring light into a world riddled with despair, bigotry, hopelessness and scandal. Today, Jesus tells us that he did not come to abolish the law, but instead to fulfill, purify and sanctify the law, allowing the precepts by which we live to come to fruition from both a spiritual and moral standpoint. Tomorrow’s Gospel (Matthew 5:20-26) will focus on forgiveness, our need to dole it out and to accept it, for ours is a God who forgives 70 x 7, swiftly and mercifully. We too must soften our hearts, open our arms and unclench our fists if we are to walk with the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ. As an added bonus, tomorrow is the Feast Day of Saint Barnabas, a member of the twelve, he who was sent to Antioch to convert the Gentiles, proclaiming the Gospel there and elsewhere with great courage, ardor and zeal. We’ll round out the week on Sunday with the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or “Corpus Christi“ as it is more commonly known. In this joy-filled celebration, one in which we celebrate the real presence of Jesus in the disguise of bread and wine, simple gifts of the Earth that we humbly offer up to God, we reflect upon the mystery of transubstantiation, wherein God turn these gifts into the body, blood, soul and divinity of His Son and our Savior. https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Corpus-Christi-Sunday-Choose-Life.
It was today‘s 1st Reading however (1 Kings 18:20-39) that got my attention, wherein we once again look in on an outnumbered but far from cowed Elijah as he stares down the worshippers of Baal, essentially posing a very simple but age-old question in the process:
Who do you belong to?
“How long will you straddle the issue?“ he asks them bluntly. “If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.” Those on hand remained lukewarm and non-committal. But like all good priests and prophets, Elijah would have none of that. We come to find out however that Elijah is staring down the gun barrel of some pretty long odds.
“I am the only surviving prophet of the Lord,” he tells them “and there are four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal.“ General Custer has nothing on Elijah. He then offers them a proposition of sorts, a friendly wager if you will.
“Give us two young bulls. Let them choose one, cut it into pieces, and place it on the wood, but start no fire. I shall prepare the other and place it on the wood, but shall start no fire. You shall call on your gods, and I will call on the Lord. The God who answers with fire is God.”
“You’re on!” said the 450 in unison.
Elijah graciously grants his adversaries the first at-bat. Taking the young bull that was turned over to them, they prepared it and called on Baal, we’re told, from morning until noon crying out, “Answer us, Baal!”
But there was no sound, and no one answering.
And they hopped around the altar they had prepared.
Noon time rolls around.... No sign of Baal.
Elijah decides to have a little fun with them at this point. As a matter of fact, the young people reading this passage might be inclined to say that Elijah begins to engage in a little bit of “trash talking.”
“Call louder,” he says to them “for he is a god and may be meditating, or may have retired, or may be on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
Without a single iota of self-awareness, The 450 began to call out louder, going so far as to slash themselves with swords and spears, as was customary, until blood gushed over them. Noon came and went and they remained in a prophetic state until the time for offering sacrifice.
“No one answered, and no one was listening,“ Scripture tells us.
“Come here to me,” Elijah finally says to them, his compassion and sympathy for their vain and fruitless efforts appearing to get the best of him. When the people came to him, he methodically repaired the altar of the Lord that had been destroyed. He took twelve stones, for the number of tribes of the sons of Jacob. He built an altar in honor of the Lord with the stones, and made a trench around the altar large enough for two measures of grain. When he had arranged the wood, he cut up the young bull and laid it on the wood. “Fill four jars with water,” he said to them, “and pour it over the burnt offering and over the wood.” “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he said. They indeed did it a third time. The water flowed around the altar, and the trench was filled with the water.
At the time for offering sacrifice, the prophet Elijah came forward and said, “Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things by your command. Answer me, Lord!” cried Elijah in a loud voice. “Answer me, that this people may know that you, Lird, are God and that you have brought them back to their senses.”
We’re told that the Lord’s fire did come down and consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dust, and it lapped up the water in the trench. Seeing this awesome sight unfold, the 450 fell prostrate and said, “The Lord is God! The Lord is God!”
Apparently George Bernard Shaw was correct when he said “in gambling, the many must lose so that the few may win.”
It was Elijah who knew however that the apparent long-shot was in fact the lead pipe cinch, the sure thing disguised as the boxcar pay-off. This story and others like it serve to embolden the faithful, God’s devoted children who will oftentimes find themselves in places and situations where they are in fact outnumbered, shunned, ridiculed and marginalized because of their devotion and belief in God. This story is a reminder that Christianity, especially in this day and age, is in fact the road less traveled, the narrow path that leads to the narrow gate, the gate through which Jesus urges his children to seek to enter.
On the topic of Jesus, he too was the underdog. Well...yes an no. To the unenlightened he was weak, a pacifist who chose to turn the other cheek, who favored truth over intimidation, love of neighbor over domination and power, service to others over prestige and honor. Yes, in Jesus’ time these virtues were viewed as weaknesses. I wonder at times if they are viewed similarly today.
Mocked and ridiculed on the road to Calvary, Jesus took every insult, every cheap shot, everything they could throw at him, never once raising his hand or calling upon the Father, further fueling the belief of those who opposed him. No one who was of the Father would absorb all of that punishment for his followers they figured.
To the faithful however he was the one who conquered death, emerging from the tomb, trampling Hades underfoot, binding Satan while rescuing those who came before him. This was the Lord, this was the Christ, the Son of God, Him through whom all must go in order to encounter Father. Him through whom all could be saved. This was the King. Born of the Virgin, the young girl who would serve as the sinless vessel through which Jesus would enter the world. She whom the Dragon Satan fears mightily, quivering at the mere mention of her name. With each day that passes, we draw closer and closer to that day when Jesus will return. Satan, in his desperation ~ clearly made manifest in much of the fear, racism, violence and vitriol that he has conjured up in the world today, tools used by the Prince of Darkness as a final attempt to pull out all the stops, grows more terrified with each passing day. As well he should.
Christianity is not a long shot wager. It has however become more and more of a contrarian bet. In matters pertaining to abortion, traditional marriage and transgenderism, public opinion has drifted away from Jesus’ teachings. But don’t be alarmed by that; this was in fact foretold. Simply allow Elijah, and David, and Jacob and Daniel, certainly Jesus and Mary, and the myriad of Biblical characters who emerged victorious in the face of enormous calamities and tribulation to serve as your role models. For as John Lennon once said, “standing up for what you believe in wing get you a lot of friends...but it’ll get you the right ones.”