Chapters 18 and 19 of First Kings speak as eloquently as any other book of the Bible about God’s absolute sovereignty. The prophet Elijah is “possessed” and “driven” by God’s sovereignty to the point of issuing an epic challenge to 450 priests of Baal. Elijah and his God vs. 450 prophets and their Baal. A sacrificial bull prepared by Elijah on God’s altar and a sacrificial bull prepared by those priests on Baal’s.
The rule is simple: the people of Israel shall decide to worship and to accept the sovereignty of the God whose bull will be consumed by fire without fire being set to it by anyone. Elijah is so certain that he has chosen to serve the right God that he orders his bull to be drenched with water repeatedly.
For the entire length of the day, the 450 prophets of Baal invoke their gods to send fire from their heaven to consume the selected victim. They gash themselves with swords and spears; they let their blood gush out profusely. But their wounds and cries go unanswered. At the end of the day Elijah assembles the whole people of Israel and calls upon the name of the Lord to send his fire to consume the holocaust.
Portentously, God’s fire comes down from heaven and consumes the sacrificial bull, the wood, but also the stones of the altar, the dust around it and all the water of the altar’s trench evaporates! In a fit of zeal Elijah orders the 450 priests of Baal seized and taken to the Kishon brook. There he slits their throats!
Once Queen Jezebel learns that Elijah has executed all her prophets, she swears that she would not rest until she does the same to Elijah. Totally dejected, Elijah wishes to die. But God feeds him through his angel and, regaining his strength, Elijah is able to walk for 40 days and nights to God’s mount, Horeb.
At Mount Horeb, God forces Elijah to dig deeply into his heart and find out the roots of his fears and the reason for withdrawing from the challenges of life that were part and parcel of his call as prophet and his acceptance of God’s absolute sovereignty. Slowly the Lord God leads Elijah to realize that a feeling of self-importance was creeping in and taking possession of his mind and heart, thus reducing God’s sovereignty over all facets of his life. But, instead of answering the Lord, Elijah goes into a self-pity plead pointing out how good and loyal he has been. In other words, Elijah tries to convince God to do more for him because God could use people as loyal and as “important” as he has been.
Noticing how Elijah refuses to come to grips with his fears and the role assigned to him, God orders him to get out of the cave in which he has taken refuge and withstand his divine presence. At long last, Elijah realizes that he is in the presence of God when he is hit by a gentle breeze. Yet, before digging into his heart, face his fears and assess his role as God’s prophet, Elijah undermines God’s sovereignty and plays once again the self-pity card. He reminds God of his loyalty, and of how God needs good, faithful people such as himself.
Well, since the gentle ways fail to impose self-awareness and trustful disposition on Elijah, God spells it out in plain, rough fashion: God, the sovereign Lord of the whole universe alone calls the shots. Elijah is expandable like everybody else in God’s service. Let Elijah carry out God’s orders for the time being because God has already somebody else to take his place once Elijah is out of the picture.
We, people of the New Covenant, are expected to ascribe to Jesus the same degree of absolute sovereignty that Yahweh God claimed within the Old Covenant.
“All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” (cf. John 1:3)
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (cf. Colossians 1:17)
“He has a name written on his cloak and on his thigh, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (cf. Revelation 19:16)
Of course there are many more verses that confirm Jesus absolute sovereignty equal to the Father’s.
As we see in the Gospel passage from Matthew (14:22-33), in our age too, first, Jesus feeds his people (all of us) with his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Then, every week, his people are sent in a little boat over the stormy waters of the world. At times those waters are much more menacing than the threats of Queen Jezebel directed at Elijah.
What is crucial is for us to keep focusing on Jesus. We cannot forget that, for as long as Peter kept looking at Jesus, he could overcome the deadly threat of evil in the waters of the sea. It was only whenever Peter looked down and, by himself, confronted the menacing sea that he began to sink. The lesson takes shape even though it is not as reassuring as we had hoped. Not because the message per se is unclear, but because the message is mostly delivered to us in gentle, subtle, unassuming, ordinary ways like the gentle breeze of God’s presence in the face of Elijah.
We keep forgetting that especially after the earthshaking event of the resurrection, the Lord should not have to resort to ominous, frightening signs to get our attention. However, as it is, personal issues and concerns divert our gaze from our duty of ascribing to Jesus the absolute sovereignty over us that he won through his death and resurrection. Thus, the Lord must get more direct and more forceful not only to get us to fix again our gaze on him, but also to reassess the role that he, our Lord, has assigned us.
Paul is an excellent template of how to ascribe to Jesus absolute sovereignty over us. When Paul (formerly Saul) had his own plans on how to be a “good Jew,” the voice of the Risen Lord said to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.” (Acts 26:14)
As Paul grew in his love for Jesus and spent the rest of his life for the Gospel, in the wake of all the unique privileges bestowed on him, he could have felt self-importance mounting in his heart. However, Christ had already taken possession of his heart and so he accepted having to live with his miseries, with a thorn in his flesh, which once embraced for love of Jesus, made him comfortable and glad with the concept of boasting of his own weaknesses (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
What an outstanding example of being ok with Jesus’ absolute sovereignty over one’s life!
Our miseries, our weaknesses, along with our repeated slipping back into self-importance should gradually lead us to extoll Jesus’ sovereignty over us by remaining constantly aware that we hold the treasure of our knowledge of Christ and of our faith in earthen vessels. Our acknowledged fragility should remind us of how precarious our condition really is.
Far from thinking that the Lord would have to reduce his activities without our “precious” contribution, we should embrace our being expendable and entertain constantly the thought that we are a little bump away from becoming a bunch of shards. What ought to sustain us is not our importance and the value of our work for the Kingdom but, rather, the Lord’s love and his illogical predilection of us that generates our joyous acceptance of his sovereignty.
Indeed, the Lord’s power is made perfect in our accepted, actually flaunted weakness!
To be ok with the Lord’s sovereignty over us is not an imposition of unfairness on our minds but evidence that even if totally expandable we shall receive the same reward in the Father’s Home whether we toiled all day in his vineyard or worked for just an hour!