Reading 1 SIR 48:1-4, 9-11
In those days,
like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah
whose words were as a flaming furnace.
Their staff of bread he shattered,
in his zeal he reduced them to straits;
By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens
and three times brought down fire.
How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses.
You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD,
To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons,
and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.
Blessed is he who shall have seen you
and who falls asleep in your friendship.
Gospel MT 17:9A, 10-13
As they were coming down from the mountain,
the disciples asked Jesus,
“Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;
but I tell you that Elijah has already come,
and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.
So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.”
Then the disciples understood
that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
Today’s instruction in the Book of Sirach speaks about the prophet Elijah and all his mighty works as the Prophet of the Lord God. He was a prophet on fire for his Lord and Master and tirelessly performed all that God required of him. At the end of his life, he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot drawn by fiery horses. It was said that one day Elijah would return as he had left to make things right once and for all. Ben Sira, the author of the Book of Sirach, catalogs the mighty works, the great signs Elijah worked in the name of God. To this day, at Passover, one seat is left empty for Elijah—such was the greatness of God’s prophet.
In today’s gospel, Jesus acknowledges Elijah’s greatness, but suggests that one greater than Elijah has already returned in the person of John the Baptist. Like Elijah, like all the prophets, John acted as the conscience of an evil King. He eclipses Elijah because he announces the coming of the Christ, the one who would take away the sin of the world. Unlike Elijah, John was not saved from those who hated him. He preached of conversion of hearts and baptized converts in the Jordan—even Jesus himself. Once Jesus comes John realizes that “He must increase. I must decrease.” He is imprisoned by Herod and is beheaded for the amusement of Salome. John is silenced, but the goodness of his life and words would not be extinguished. His heart’s fire burned to the end and for that John is greater than all who had preceded him—even Elijah. Our road, our own purpose may not be that of Elijah or John the Baptist, but we too through our baptisms are prophets and our lives need to be spent being the message God has written into our hearts for the sake of others, no matter its cost.
Father in heaven, may your will for our lives be done in us. May we always be open to your touch, as was Elijah and John the Baptist. Help us to remain faithful to our baptismal call. Enflesh the message you have written in us for the service of others, especially now as we reflect on Jesus’ coming in history. We ask this through Jesus, your Son.
Mthr. Phyllis McHugh
Pastor, St. Thomas More