Listening with the ear of the heart – Saturday, 2nd Week in Advent – Sirach 48:1-4,9-11b and Matthew 17: 10-13
The book of Ben Sirach or Ecclesiasticus was originally written by Jeshua (Jesus) ben Eleazar ben Sirach and was completed in its Hebrew format after 190 BC. but before 175. BC. By about 200 B.C. there were more Jews living outside Palestine than in there. Although Antiochus III ( the Greek ruler) was tolerant of Jewish customs, yet Hellenistic ( Greek culture and language) influence continued to come into Jewish society. Especially in Jerusalem, the upper classes were tempted to look on their own literature as lower than Greek drama, poetry, and philosophy. So Sirach aimed at the best young Jews of his day to try to keep them from falling under the spell of Hellenism. Chapters 44-50 are praise of the ancient good and great men and todays first reading focuses on the prophet Elijah. This particular passage is a hymn of praise to the prophet Elijah, the mighty wonderworker, who spoke God’s word of truth in his defiance of wicked men and women of power and worldliness.
Reading the prophets is like standing next to a blast furnace in the winter. Most of us would like the heat, but we can’t stand to stand too close lest we get burnt. Elijah the prophet arose like a fire. He brought a famine on the people and brought down fire from the sky. He even raised a corpse from the dead: 1 Kings chapters 17-19. At the end, he was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot. Sirach 48.19 tells us that Elijah is to return before the end to calm the wrath of God.
The Jewish faith looked forward to the ‘last days’ or the end time when the Lord would come in glory and finally wrap up the affairs of this world. And a conviction had arisen that the approach of the End Time would be signalled by a forerunner – the figure of the larger than life prophet Elijah would make a renewed appearance.
Though Elijah was one of the greatest of the Israelite prophets, he was not the last. God continued to speak through the prophets, but his word of truth spoken through the prophets was preparing Israel and the world for Christ. Christ is not just a prophet, but he is God. At one time, God’s word, was mediated by the prophets, but in Christ, God speaks for himself- and he speaks to us.