Is it true that life has gotten harder over the years? Or might it be that we have simply grown up and now realize that it has always been a challenge; we were simply shielded from its hardships? We were taught to live good lives, to be kind to others and to follow the rules. Why is it, then, that the more we try, the harder life seems to be? Just what does God expect of us? Perhaps this is the wrong question. Perhaps we should ask: Just what do we expect of God?
Today’s readings challenge expectations we might have of life or of God. Elijah presumed that a genuine experience of God would be accompanied by extraordinary phenomena: a mighty wind, as was the case with Job (Jb 38:1); an earthquake, like the one that occurred when God gave the commandments (Ex 19:18); or fire, reminiscent of the burning bush (Ex 3:2). But no! It was in the tiny whispering sound that Elijah recognized the presence of God.
We sometimes trivialize the Gospel story, viewing Peter’s lack of faith with a subtle sense of superiority. One would think that after seeing Jesus perform the miracle of the loaves, Peter would have trusted Jesus’ power to support him across the waters. We certainly would not have doubted! But it is one thing to observe divine power at work in the lives of others and quite another to step out bravely into chaos, sure that that same power will sustain us.
And then there is Paul, passionately in love with Christ, yet willing to be “accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” His words may be a gross overstatement, but his devotion to his Jewish compatriots is unquestionable. These were and will always be the people chosen by God to bring forth the Christ, according to the flesh. Paul is willing to sacrifice himself for them.
What does God expect of us? No more than has ever been expected of these others: the realization that it is in the very ordinary events of life that we meet God; willingness to follow Jesus even into chaos that might overwhelm us; genuine love for and commitment to others. It is a challenge, but he says to us as well: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”