Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
(Sirach 48:1-14; Matthew 6:7-15)
Although no book of the Bible bears his name, Elijah may be considered the preeminent prophet of Israel. As a prophet, he received a special revelation from God, spoke on God’s behalf, and suffered at the hands of kings and people because of God’s message. However, he was not martyred, which was considered the prophet’s fate. Rather, he was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot, which was fitting since fire was Elijah’s trademark. Pope Benedict in his book Jesus of Nazareth writes that the people of Israel awaited Elijah’s return so that he might experience a true martyr’s death.
Because of his expected return, some thought Jesus himself was Elijah reincarnated. When he asked his disciples who the people were calling him, they answered that some considered him to be Elijah. But Jesus had another candidate for the Elijah role: John the Baptist, who was beheaded after telling the truth about Herod Antipas. For Jesus, John’s death anticipates the prophetic “Day of the Lord” which is how the evangelists saw the paschal event.
Christians understand the prophets as foretelling Jesus’ coming. How did Elijah do this? There are incidents about Elijah that parallel experiences in Jesus’ life like providing food for the widow and her son prefiguring Jesus’ feeding the multitude. Perhaps more indicative, however, is the story of the Lord God coming to Elijah as a whisper at the mouth of a cave. We see the whisper as Jesus, the full revelation of God in the quite unassuming figure of a carpenter from Nazareth, and the cave as the depths of his being where he talks with the Father because he is one with Him.