Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we heard how Elijah, the great prophet of old, came once again into this world, in the form of John the Baptist, the messenger of God and the one who prepared the way for the coming of God. Indeed according to the Scriptures, both of them are likely to be one and the same.
While John the Baptist was not mentioned much in the Holy Scripture, and the details about his life and works are relatively scarce, gathering from what we have in the Holy Gospels, the story about the prophet Elijah, one of the greatest of the prophets, are plentiful. We can read many of his works in the Book of Kings in the Old Testament.
There are many parallels that we can find, between the prophet Elijah and John the Baptist, the last of God’s messengers before the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Elijah was sent to the people of Israel, when the people of God went through times of struggle, of an identity crisis, the crisis of their soul. The people of God had not been faithful to the Lord of their fathers, and they had turned away from His ways.
The people of the northern kingdom of Israel, whom Elijah was sent to, was under a rule of wickedness, under the king Ahab, whom many of you would know as one of the most wicked and unfaithful king of Israel. The people who remained faithful to the Lord suffered and even had to lose their lives. One of them was Nabot, whom the king murdered through false testimonies, and he was killed so that the king could have his land, fertile and rich.
Elijah lived through difficult times, where those who believe in God were persecuted. It was therefore even more difficult for one like the prophet and messenger of the Lord’s will. Elijah was persecuted and had to go from one exile to another, fleeing at times from the persecutioners and the forces of the king. Elijah yet persevered and with the power and guidance of God, he continued to work, calling the people to repent from their sinful ways and returned to the worship of the One, True God.
Elijah challenged the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, and won against them, showing the people of God who is the One and only True God. He did many other works of wonders across the land, and even went to the land of the pagans, and found truly great faith there. He brought back to life the son of the widow, and feed them with oil when the land was in famine.
Elijah ended his works in this world and found in Elisha, a successor to his works. It was unique that he among the others, did not die, but was taken up on flaming chariots into heaven. Such was a spectacular and dramatic end for this great prophet of God. But no, that was not the end. Elijah was taken up into heaven to be at God’s side so that the Lord can entrust him to do an even greater work.
Yes, that is to be the one to prepare the way for the Lord, who would come as the Saviour of all, the long promised Messiah. As John the Baptist, what he did, were truly not different from what he had done as Elijah. He proclaimed to the people the need for repentance, and to change their ways, so as to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Himself.
And just as Elijah had to suffer rejection and persecution, John the Baptist too faced mockery and rejection from the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who were too self-righteous to listen to the calling of John to repent and change their sinful ways. John the Baptist led the way for Christ, the Messiah, who came in Jesus, the One who finally came to liberate the people of God from sin. And finally both great servants did not hesitate to rebuke even worldly authorities, when they were faced with wickedness. Elijah rebuked king Ahab for his actions in causing the death of Nabot
And those who persecuted Elijah and John the Baptist, as opposed as they were against the Lord and His ways, would also be against the Lord, as was evident, when they opposed the Lord Jesus and all of His works during His earthly ministry. And if they persecuted Elijah, seeking to end his life, and which they succeeded in John, when through Herodias’ daughter, they ended the life of the servant of God. The Lord too, was rejected, reviled, mocked, and finally condemned to death, a death most shameful on the cross.
Yet, did the Lord give up on us? Did He turn away from us even after we have rejected so many of His prophets, and even murdered them? Did He give up the cross so that He no longer needed to suffer for the sake of our rebellious and sinful selves? No, He did not! And that is most important, for the actions of the two great servants of God, Elijah and John the Baptist, were ultimately designed after the examples of God Himself, who in His great love for us, was willing to lower Himself and die as slaves did, so that we can be liberated from our own slavery to sin.
And today, we celebrate a saint whose life has been dedicated to the Lord in much the same way. St. John of the Cross was born in Spain in the sixteenth century and joined the Carmelite order, and went on to be a famous preacher and teacher of the faith to many across Spain. And St. John of the Cross was known for his many works together with St. Teresa of Jesus, also known as St. Teresa of Avila, and both of them were declared Doctors of the Church for their numerous contributions.
St. John of the Cross took part in what was known to be the Reform of Avila, commenced by St. Teresa of Jesus herself, aimed at restoring the purity within the Carmelite order, restoring the venerable and holy traditions designed to keep disciplined and holy, dedicated lifestyle in those who had dedicated themselves to the service of the Lord.
And this was just one of the many contributions that St. John of the Cross had given to the Church. He has written many writings and books that helped greatly in the rediscovery of the purity of the faith among many people during the Counter-Reformation period. And just as many other holy people before him, as were Elijah and John the Baptist, he faced opposition, and even persecution and imprisonment.
There were many who were disgruntled and vehemently against the reforms initiated by both St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, and yet, regardless of all these, St. John of the Cross continued his hard work and did not give up despite the difficulties. He continued to labour for the Lord’s sake until his death.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is easy and often even inevitable for us to act like those who persecuted and condemned these holy people and messengers of God’s will, because simply they speak in a way that truly pierced us to the very depths of our souls.
We have grown decadent and complacent, and we have grown accustomed to the ways of this world. We find comfort in the ways of the world, no matter how wicked they actually are. We prefer to keep to our wicked ways rather than listening to the words of God that these holy people and messengers have brought with them.
That is why we persecuted these people appointed by God to be our help and our guide. Instead of persecuting them, should we not then begin to take this opportunity to reflect on what we had done? Should we not use this chance to begin our path towards salvation by taking even small steps but steps that are certain. We can no longer be ignorant of the faith we have in God. We have to embrace that faith and listen to what the saints and the holy people of God had done and preached, and suffered for in God’s Name.
May the Lord with the help of His saints, and through their intercession, help us to keep on track, on the path towards the Lord, that we will remain faithful, and will be blessed by the faith we have, that on the last day, the Lord will reward us together with His saints. Amen.