Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
31 Jul 2020
Ferdinand Okorie, CMF

Reading 1: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Reading 2: Romans 9:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33

Meghan is a wife, mom, and nurse. She is a devout catholic who shares in the ministry of her parish community as a lector. When she tested positive for the novel coronavirus, she was visibly upset, being the only one in her unit to test positive for Covid-19. She feared for her life. Being a Covid-19 patient unnerved Meghan. She became angry with God, feeling that her vigilance at work and faith in God did not protect her from infection. Yet in isolation, prayer was life-giving and reassured her of God’s presence.

In the First Reading, faced with a threat to his life, Elijah cries out in fear. The monarchy pledges to kill him (1 Kgs 19:2) and he accuses the Israelites of complicity (v 10). His zeal and devotion to God have exposed him to danger, insecurity, and isolation (v 10). Fearing for his life, he leaves his servant in the city and escapes into the desert (vv 3-4).  Apparently, as it concerns his safety, Elijah has taken matters into his own hands, and he is going to do whatever is possible to protect himself against the monarchy and the Israelites. Running into the desert, away from the murderous eyes of those seeking to kill him, is far better than remaining in the city. Does Elijah still trust that God will protect him from the threats to his life because of his service and loyalty to God? His decision to flee the city seems to have been motivated by a personal conviction that God’s protection is no longer a guarantee. Elijah is convinced that this is the case because every other prophet of God except him has been put to the sword (v 10).

But he soon realizes that running away from the city and sheltering in place in the desert does not guarantee the absence of danger. Suddenly, his life is in danger of twisters, earthquakes, and fire (vv 11-12). Even at the mountain of the Lord, a symbol of God’s divine presence, the prophet’s life is in fact under threat. But Elijah receives God’s reassuring presence and benevolence. The angel of God waited on him with life-giving nourishment, and God’s reassuring conversation with Elijah deepened his confidence and sense of security to return to the city.

In the Second Reading, Paul’s sorrow and anguish are alleviated by his remembrance of God’s benevolence and presence to the Israelites from the times of the patriarchs, through election and the giving of the law (Rom 9:4-5). At every turn in Israel’s history, God shows divine commitment to the promises that God has made to them.

Also in the Gospel Reading, Peter’s despair and fear for his life is diminished by the presence of Christ (Matt 14:27). As a fisherman, Peter is familiar with the Sea of Galilee, yet the fear of death overwhelms him. To heighten his fear and the feeling of threat to his life, he and those with him in the boat see an apparition of what seems to be one of the powers of the sea (v 26). It is clear to Peter that both the waves tossing the boat and the apparition are threats to his life. But learning that the apparition is a divine presence, Peter wishes to leave the boat at once and take shelter in God’s presence: “Lord command me to come to you” (v 28).

In Heather Morris’ The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Lale Sokolov is surrounded by fear, despair, and death in addition to his own struggle to keep faith, but he summons courage, cries out, recites the Kaddish, and invokes God’s providential benevolence and presence. During this period of uncertainties caused by Covid-19, racial tension and violence, let us remember that God is over all (Rom 9:5), ready to listen to the concerns of our lives (1 Kgs 19:13-15), beckoning us to take courage and announcing his divine presence to save us (Matt 14:27). Just as in the experiences of Elijah and Peter, it is still possible today to hear God’s words of comfort and feel God’s divine presence. Meghan credits God for her recovery from Covid-19; and just as Elijah returns to the city after encountering God, likewise Meghan has returned to the frontlines of the fight against Covid-19, saving lives and offering hope to her patients and their families. Whenever we experience the brokenness of our human spirit by the circumstances of life, let us remember that divine presence is trustworthy.

Ferdinand Okorie, CMF

Assistant Professor of New Testament Studies
Director of Biblical Studies & Travel Program