Many Jewish, Christian, and Muslim pilgrims who travel to Israel visit Mt. Carmel, to honor the memory of the greatest Jewish prophet, Elijah, a great prayer warrior.
There is a thirty-foot statue of Elijah with his right arm raised holding a sword, with his left foot standing on the neck of a false prophet of Baal. Nearby is the church of St. Elijah, a statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and a monastery of the Discalced Carmelites. The Carmelites have been associated with Mt. Carmel for more than 800 years. From Mt. Carmel, one can look to the west for a panorama of the Mediterranean Sea, to the southeast to Mt. Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley, which runs to the northwest to Lebanon. The Sea of Galilee, though not visible is to the east.
A Great Man of God
Our Old Testament reading from I Kings 18 introduces us to this great man of God, who is now begging God to end the three and half years of drought. In order to turn the hearts of Israel back to God from Baal, he had prayed for that drought. Today’s scene is at the conclusion of a contest between 400 prophets of Baal and Elijah, whose name means “The LORD is God.” For six unsuccessful hours, the false prophets had called to Baal to send down fire on their sacrifice.
When Elijah’s turn came, at the hour of the evening sacrifice, he built an altar of twelve stones, cut up a bull, and doused the altar with water. Then he called to the people “Come closer to me,” echoing the desire of God for communion with his chosen people. Crying out to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, he prayed: “Let it be known this day that you are God in Israel…. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so that these people may know you, O LORD our God and that you have turned their hearts back to him.” (I Kings 18:36-37) Fire rushed from heaven, consumed the sacrifice and the people fell on their faces, crying out “The LORD is indeed God.” Following the prescription of the Law for false prophets, Elijah executed all of the prophets of Baal.
After this bloody act, Elijah told Ahab ‘to go and eat and drink’ in preparation for the sound of rushing rain. Elijah then bowed down his face to the earth, between his knees, to humbly ask God for an end to the drought. Seven times he asked his servant to go and look towards the Mediterranean for evidence of thunder clouds. Elijah fervently asked, sought, and knocked on heaven’s door for rain. Upon the seventh time his servant saw a cloud the size of a man’s hand. Elijah told Ahab to run ahead of the oncoming thunderstorm back to his home. Carmelites see in this cloud, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She too is a powerful intercessor to God on our behalf. The god Baal was supposed to be bringer of rain and fertility. Elijah showed that the LORD, not Baal, controlled the rain.
The fifth chapter of the epistle of St. James commands us to pray if we are suffering or sick. St. James gives us the example of Elijah, merely a man, a righteous man, whose fervent prayer had great power in its effects, shutting and opening the heavens by prayer. Sirach 48:1-3 sings of the greatness of Elijah: “he arose like a fire, and his word burned like a torch…by the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens, and also three time brought down fire.” He also cried out to God over the dead body of the son of the widow of Zarephath, the woman who had fed the prophet for a year, and God raised the boy to life again.
Outpouring of the Holy Spirit
We have just celebrated the marvelous feast of Pentecost last Sunday. The same Holy Spirit that empowered Elijah descended on the Christian believers, while they continued with “one accord in prayer and supplication.” (Acts1:14; 2:1) They were expectantly and obediently praying for the power from on high which Jesus had promised. God answered their prayer in a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, birthing three thousand new members.
Like Elijah, the Church still calls us to repentance as we see in today’s gospel. “Be reconciled to your brother.” (Mt 5:24) It still teaches us that faith, fervent zeal, and actions in obedience to the Holy Spirit are necessary for our prayers to be heard. Underscoring the fact that Elijah was a man like us, after these great victories, he ran for fear from Queen Jezebel, telling God that he was ready to die. The angel of God strengthened him with bread and water, foreshadowing the Eucharist, since he was able to walk for another 40 days with the effects of this sustenance to Mt. Horeb. There in the “sound of sheer silence” he heard the voice of God. For the order of Carmelites, this speaks of the necessity of silence and contemplation to be able to hear God’s voice. God still had work for Elijah to do.
For further reflection: What kind of work does God have for you to do? It should always begin with prayer. Let the Holy Spirit guide you. Follow in the footsteps of Elijah, the great prayer warrior, who listened intently for the word of God, and had faith in it.