Monday, June 09, 2008

Monday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Feast in Famine

Readings: 1 Kings 17:1-6; Psalms 121:1bc-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Matthew 5:1-12
Picture: CC babasteve

Christ come quickly there’s danger at the door;
poverty aplenty, hearts gone wild with war.
There’s hunger in the city and famine on the plain.
Come Lord Jesus, the light is dying,
the night keeps crying.
Come Lord Jesus.

These words from an old hymn are what come first to mind as we listen to the Mass readings for today. For, in both passages, the action takes place against a similar background. In the first reading, the prophet Elijah pronounces a condition of drought leading to famine. There shall neither be dew nor rain in these years… This dire situation is a consequence of idolatry. Led by their king, Ahab, the people have turned away from the Lord their God, and chosen instead to worship the storm god Baal. Anxious to ensure fertile fields and timely seasonal showers, they have thrown in their lot with a pagan deity. As a consequence, to show that he alone is the master of all creation, the One True God shuts up the heavens and sends no rain. The gospel hints at a similar context when it begins by telling us that upon seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. The teaching that Jesus then goes on to offer is a response to what he sees with his own eyes: a mass of confused and dejected people, laboring under a drought of divine grace, thirsting for the word of God.

There’s hunger in the city and famine on the plain…

Don’t these words also describe the situation in our world today, if not literally, then at least figuratively? Even in those rare cities in which poverty does not rear its ugly head, is there not often a tendency towards idolatry that results in a famine of the word of God? In place of Baal, do we not have our own idols of choice? We might think, for example, of science and technology, or economics and finance. Of course, these things are not bad in themselves, just as fertile fields and seasonal showers were blessings for the people of Elijah’s day. But havoc is wreaked when created realities are raised to the status of deity, when people’s taste-buds are dulled to the point that they can appreciate only what this material world has to offer.

There’s hunger in the city and famine on the plain…

Into this situation of drought, God’s Wisdom descends like welcome rain. The same teaching that Jesus offers verbally, Elijah presents in action. To the spiritual starvation that prevails, even in the midst of material plenty, both in the city and on the plain, God responds by instructing Elijah to go out into the country, just as Jesus goes up the Mount of Beatitudes. From these respective places of contrast, Elijah and Jesus present God’s antidote to the poison of idolatry. Against the anxious acquisition of wealth and the unceasing search for self-sufficiency, they preach a counter-cultural message of the blessing to be found in spiritual poverty and total dependence on divine providence. I have ordered the ravens to bring you food… How happy are the poor in spirit… To the competition and conflict that inevitably arises from a possessive clinging to resources of all kinds, Elijah and Jesus offer an alternative vision of peace and right relationship, a vision powerful enough to inspire tireless effort, even in the face of persecution. Happy the merciful… Happy the peacemakers…

In the midst of the hunger that prevails in our cities, and the famine in our plains, how is our God inviting us to bear witness to the Beatitudes today?


  1. Was having tea with an old friend in a library just now, discussing how many people can be so driven by self-preservation, personal gain or loss, etc. that they lose sight of their true vocation (e.g. as educators) and end up making a mess of their own work, other people's jobs, and the quality of service provided (e.g. to the students).

    My friend, an agnostic, has expressed disgust at the behavior of certain Christian colleagues at work. I wish we could all be more aware of our spiritual poverty, and hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy and peace much more than personal / material gain. Just claiming to be followers of Christ is simply not enough.

  2. I remember the hymn: the tune is playing out in my mind right now :)

    There’ll be hunger in the city, famine on the plain and frustration and confusion among the nations if the astronomical oil and high food prices do not abate. Not in recent recorded history has something of this scale afflicted the world, brought about by a confluence of constricted oil supply, turmoil in the financial markets, and dismal food harvests. Add to this cocktail human greed and avarice, and the deadly brew is ready for humanity to drink from.

    Sometimes I wish the instant retribution of God during the time of Elijah would play out in this day and age, but then I, too, would be at the receiving end :)

    I realised - often painfully - that it is in dire times that I began to really depend on divine providence. It is an uncomfortable feeling to say the least; the heart believes but the mind has its doubts. And yet, in truth, if this is The One True Living God who has carved us on the palm of His Hand, what better alternative have we than to stick it out with Him? There is, after all, no other.

    Come, LORD Jesus ...


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