June 13, 2012
Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, priest and
doctor of the Church
By Colleen O'Sullivan
Ahab sent to all the children of Israel and had the prophets assemble on
Mount Carmel. Elijah appealed to all the
people and said, “How long will you straddle the issue? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal,
follow him.” The people, however, did
not answer him. So Elijah said to the
people, “I am the only surviving prophet of the Lord, and there are four
hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. Give
us two young bulls. Let them choose one,
cut it into pieces, and place it on the wood, but start no fire. I shall prepare the other and place it on the
wood, but shall start no fire. You shall
call on your gods, and I will call on the Lord.
The God who answers with fire is God.”
All the people answered, “Agreed!”… “Taking the young bull that was
turned over to them, (the prophets of Baal) prepared it and called on Baal from
morning to noon, saying, “Answer us, Baal!”
But there was no sound and no one answering. And they hopped around the altar they had
prepared. When it was noon, Elijah
taunted them: “Call louder, for he is a
god and may be meditating, or may have retired, or may be on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”…
Noon passed and they remained in a prophetic state. But there was not a sound; no one answered,
and no one was listening.
(Then) the prophet Elijah came forward and said, “Lord, God of Abraham,
Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that
I am your servant and have done all these things by your command… The Lord’s fire came down and consumed the
burnt offering, wood, stones, and dust, and it lapped up the water in the
trench. Seeing this, all the people fell
prostrate and said, “The Lord is God!
The Lord is God!” (I Kings
18:20-24, 26-27, 29, 36, 38-39)
Keep me safe, O God;
in you I
I say to the Lord,
you are my Lord.
What a scene we have portrayed in today’s reading
from I Kings, true Hollywood epic film material! The prophet Elijah has had it up to his
eyeballs with the fickle ways of God’s people. Sometimes they worship the God
of Israel and, when it’s more convenient, they worship Baal. There is no loyalty in them. Elijah wants them to decide once and for all
who the true god is, so he sets up this “competition.” The prophets of Baal try everything. They prepare their altar. They cut up their sacrificial bull. They hop endlessly around the altar. They spend hours calling on Baal. They even slash themselves with their
weapons, all to no avail. Their god is
silent and powerless.
Elijah, not breaking a sweat, even ups the stakes
when it’s his turn. He has water poured
on the wood, making it all the more difficult to ignite. When he calls on the Lord, begging God to answer
so that the people will have no doubt who the true God is, the Lord immediately
sends down fire that burns up the bull, the wood and even the stones! No longer is there any doubt. The God of Israel is the one true God.
We are all guilty of dancing around altars of false
gods at times. We find ourselves putting
our trust in the things money can buy or in money itself. We are sometimes more wrapped up in our human
relationships than in our relationship with God. Sometimes it is our failed relationships or
old hurts and wounds that consume our time and energy. For others of us, it’s pride in being
self-sufficient that rules the day. You
can fill in the blank for yourself.
But, no matter what false god’s altar we worship
at, we find ourselves just as defeated as the 450 prophets of Baal. We may be temporarily deluded, but in the
end, there is no god but our God. No
other god created us and all the universe.
No false god has ever sent his or her only child into the world to
suffer and die for us. False gods don’t
rise from the dead. No other god has the
power to forgive our sins. No other god
can truly comfort and console us when we are beset by troubles. When our loved ones die, when we die, it’s
God’s arms, no other’s, that are waiting to receive us into eternal life.
This scene from the days of Elijah continues to be
replayed over and over to this day. When
we sin, we inevitably find we’ve put something other than God at the center of
our lives. We’ve been dancing around
some other god’s altar. When you have
time today, reflect on the last week and what false god’s altars you’ve worshiped at. The good news is that God
always forgives us and is happy to welcome us back when we admit to our
betrayals and are ready to say, “You alone are my God.”