Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
After Solomon's death the twelve tribes of Israel were divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Juda. The second of these consisted of the tribes of Juda and Benjamin, with Jerusalem as capital, while the first was composed of the remaining ten tribes, having for its capital Sichem, then Samaria.
To this latter kingdom belonged the prophet Elias, who dwelt in the desert of Galaad in Samaria. A man of great virtue and austere life he wore a tunic woven of camel's hair and a leathern girdle. " With zeal, zealous for the Lord God of Hosts", he left the desert three times to convey the divine warnings to Achab, the seventh king of Israel and the queen, Jezebel, who seduced the people into idolatry ; to secure the death of the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal whom he had put to confusion on Mount Carmel, and to foretell to the king who had taken Naboth's vineyard for himself, that he would die bathed in his own blood, and to the queen, who had been Achab's evil genius, that her blood would flow on the spot where Naboth's flowed, while dogs should devour her flesh.
For these reasons Elias was persecuted by the Israelites and by Achab and Jezebel, and was obliged to flee to Mount Horeb to escape death. Later on, when Ochozias Achab's son had become king, Elias advised him not to consult Beelzebub the god of Accaron as he intended but rather the God of Israel.
Upon this Ochozias sent him a captain of fifty soldiers to summon him to come down from the mountain and to account for his words, but Elias answered: " If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume thee, and thy fifty." And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and the fifty that were with him (Breviary).
Still later, Elias set out towards the Jordan with Eliseus, and when they had crossed the river, a fiery chariot and horses separated them from each other, while Elias went up by a whirlwind into heaven. Then Eliseus took up Elias's mantle that had fallen from him, and received a double portion of his spirit, while all Elias' disciples exclaimed: "The spirit of Elias hath rested upon Eliseus."
On one ocassion, when Elias was on his way up to Bethel he was mocked by some small boys, crying: "Go up, thou bald head. Go up, thou bald head." And Elias cursed them in the name of God whom they had offended, "and there came forth two bears out of the forest and tore them two and forty boys."
All his life, Elias, with his words of fire, championed the rights of almighty God. Much later John the Baptist "came forward in the spirit and power of Elias", clad like him, and like him dwelling in the desert; defending, with the same impassioned voice, the same rights of God, and foretelling the separation which Christ, who was at hand, would make between the chaff and the wheat. " He will gather the wheat into his barns, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." " Elias," says St. Augustine, " was a type of our Redeemer and Lord. Elias suffered persecution from the Jews; our Lord, the true Elias, was despised and rejected by this same people. Elias left his own country; Christ forsook the synagogue and made welcome the Gentiles " (2nd Nocturn).
_Continuing the comparison, we may say that God rescued Elias from his enemies by raising him into the sky; and in the same way he took Christ from among His enemies, by making Him go up to heaven on Ascension Day. "Deliver me from my enemies, O my God, and defend me from them that rise up against me." (Alleluia).
Elias, carried away in a chariot of fire, was in the language of the Fathers, the type of Jesus ascending to heaven. The Gradual uses the same verse of the eighth psalm which the liturgy employs on Ascension Day. " O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth. Thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens." The Introit adds : " Behold God is my helper and the Lord is the protector of my soul. Save me, O God, by Thy name and deliver me by Thy strength." This triumph of Christ over those who hated Him, typified by that of Elias over his despisers, will be ours also, if we do not "tempt Christ", that is, if we avoid idolatry, impurity, and murmuring (Epistle), remaining faithful to grace. For if our Lord continues to be offered up on our altars to "make His work to avail on our behalf " (Secret), and if "eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood, we abide in Him and He in us" (Communion), it is in order that "united" to Him (Postcommunion) we may faithfully keep His judgments which are "sweeter than honey" (Offertory).
St. Paul indeed, tells us: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it" (Epistle). Let us therefore, beseech the Lord that His merciful ears "may be open to the prayers" of His suppliants and, in order that to those who seek He may surely give that for which they ask, He may make us to ask only for those things which are well-pleasing to Him (Collect).
But divine justice is not content with protecting the just against their enemies and with rewarding them for their fidelity; it punishes also those who do evil. Elias threatened the faithless kingdom of Israel and made fire from heaven to fall on his enemies (Breviary). The Israelites who tempted Christ by their murmurings perished by fiery serpents (Epistle), and Jerusalem, over which our Lord wept and whose punishment he foretold for its rejection of Himself, was destroyed by war and fire (Gospel). Three and twenty thousand of the children of Israel, we read, perished in one day through fornication and many were destroyed because of their murmuring. " Now," St. Paul tells us, " all these things happened to them in figure, and they are written for our correction " (Epistle).
More than a million Jews perished at the destruction of Jerusalem because they had rejected the Messias, and in the Gospel (see the first Sunday of Advent and the twenty-fourth after Pentecost), our Lord always compared this tragic ending to the catastrophies which will mark the end of all time when God will come to judge the world by fire
At that moment, the divine judge will accomplish the separation of the good from the evil, rewarding the first and banishing from the kingdom of God all who have denied Him by their unbelief or their sin, just as He drove from the Temple, the type of the Church on earth and in heaven, the traffickers who had transformed that house of God into a den of thieves (Gospel). " Turn back the evils upon my enemies, and cut them off in Thy truth, O Lord my protector " (Introit). For then the time of mercy will have passed, and that of justice only will remain. " Wherefore," says the apostle, " he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall " (Epistle).
Ecce Deus adjuvat me, et Dominus susceptor est animae meae : averte mala inimicis meis, et in veritate tua disperde illos, protector meus, Domine. * Deus, in nomine tuo salvum me fac : et in virtute tua libera me.
Behold God is my helper, and the Lord is the protector of my soul: turn back the evils upon my enemies, and cut them off in Thy truth, O Lord my protector. * Save me, O God, by Thy name, and deliver me in Thy strength.
(From the Introit of Mass, Psalm 53:6-7,3)
Pateant aures misericordiae tuae, Domine, precibus supplicantium: et ut petentibus desiderata concedas; fac eos, quae tibi sunt placita, postulare.
Let Thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of Thy suppliant people; and that Thou mayest grant them their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please Thee. Through our Lord.
Continuation of the holy Gospel according to St. Luke.
At that time, when Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, seeing the city, He wept over it saying : If thou also hadst known, and that in this day, the things that are to thy peace : but now they are hidden from thy eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee on every side; and beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee; and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone, because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation. And entering into the temple, He began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought, saying to them : It is written, My house is the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves. And He was teaching daily in the temple.
(St Luke 19:41-47)