Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
(I Kings 18:20-39; Matthew 5:17-19)
This year American Catholic theologians remember one of their greatest practitioners, Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J. Fifty years ago, Fr. Murray published his monumental work on natural law and American governance, We Hold These Truths. His personal saga relates a reversal of fortune which we might compare to Elijah’s in the first reading. Fr. Murray had been censured by the Vatican for his claims that humans must be free to choose for themselves religious belief. In time, however, he was vindicated and eventually became responsible for one of the groundbreaking documents of Vatican II, the Dignity of the Human Person, which recognized the inviolability of conscience.
Elijah was isolated by Israel’s king and shunned by the people. In the episode that we have heard today God rescues Elijah from oblivion and raises him to the stature of Israel’s prototypical prophet. King Ahab had all but apostatized. The people of Israel were following him. Now Elijah calls everyone to accountability. “If the Lord is God, follow him; if Ball, follow him,” Elijah charges. But the people demur. Elijah then erects an altar reminiscent of Moses’ at the formation of the covenant. Then, he calls down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice he has made. God readily grants his prophet’s request, and the people are left with undeniable evidence that the Lord is God.
Jesus will give the people a similar choice when he says in the Sermon on the Mount, “No one can serve two masters....You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:15). Mammon, a word directly from the language Jesus used, means wealth or property. It has been the reigning Baal since the coinage of money. Jesus like Elijah presents his followers with the option of pursuing it or the righteousness of God. Despite countless demonstrations that money cannot bring happiness, people are still charmed by its promises. Yet we know at the bottom of our hearts – in our consciences Fr. Murray would say – that only God can fulfill our desires.