Saint Ephrem, deacon, doctor of the Church (opt. Memorial)
[At Elijah's prompting] Ahab sent to all the Israelites and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Ba'al, then follow him." The people did not answer him a word.
Then Elijah said to the people, "I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Ba'al's prophets number four hundred fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God." All the people answered, "Well spoken!" Then Elijah said to the prophets of Ba'al, "Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it." So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Ba'al from morning until noon, crying, "O Ba'al, answer us!" But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made.
At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, "Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.
Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come closer to me"; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, "Israel shall be your name"; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, "Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood." Then he said, "Do it a second time"; and they did it a second time. Again he said, "Do it a third time"; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.
At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back." Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, "The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God."
Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the Lord, You are my God. (R./)
They multiply their sorrows
who court other gods.
Blood libations to them I will not pour out,
nor will I take their names upon my lips. (R./)
O Lord, my allotted portion and cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.
I set the Lord ever before me;
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. (R./)
You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples,
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
The genuine prophets were often in conflict with the status quo. They set us before fundamental options, such as when Elijah says: "How long will you sit on the fence? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Ba'al, follow him."
At other times, we are called to reconcile apparent opposites. Early in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus supports the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, right down to the letter, while still announcing a new, more interior, set of values. As St Paul taught, we are not to follow the dead letter of a law that has lost its meaing but the new, living law of the Spirit.
In our polarised world, our challenge is to discern when to accept alternate viewpoints, and when to make a clean break. We are back again with Sirach's famous question of timing. We must study issues carefully to avoid bad decisions and impulsive reactions. Clearly, such a stand as that taken by Elijah must be preceded by a long road of other attempts to reconcile and change. That his stance on Mount Carmel was the last resort, becomes clear when he ordered the four hundred and fifty prophets of Ba'al seized, dragged down to brook Kishon, and killed (1 Kings 18:40). We leave such a final day of judgement to God himself, and until it comes, we are to call others to conversion and reconciliation.
Brought up in an observant Jewish family, Jesus had learned a deep respect for Jewish practices and traditions. So in his early preaching he said, "Don't imagine that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets". But he adds that his purpose is to complete the Law and the Prophets, to focus on their purpose rather than on obeying them literally and in detail. Jesus valued all that was good in his religious tradition, but knew that God wanted to deepend enrich that tradition.
We value our own religious traditions too, but we also need to critique the obvious faults in our church and be open to what is needed from us today. Our task is to prayerfully discern what God requires of us here and now.