Elijah fed by Ravens,
Painted by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (1591 - 1666),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1620
© National Gallery, London

Elijah fed by Ravens,
Painted by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (1591 - 1666),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1620
© National Gallery, London

Gospel of 14 December 2019

Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him

Matthew 17:10-13

As they came down from the mountain the disciples put this question to Jesus, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True;’ he replied ‘Elijah is to come to see that everything is once more as it should be; however, I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.’ The disciples understood then that he had been speaking of John the Baptist.

Reflection on the Painting

Remember that shortly before this passage takes place, the disciples had just witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ where He was flanked by Moses and Elijah. This was of course still very much on their minds when they questioned Jesus in today’s Gospel passage. The disciples sought clarification regarding the role of Elijah as a forerunner of the End Time. They believed that Elijah had to return for the reign of God to come about, but Jesus tries to move them on by telling that the work of Elijah has already been done by John the Baptist! It shows how God moves at a different pace from us. Sometimes we can be stuck in the past and miss what is right in front of us and miss God’s presence in the here and now.

Elijah, suffered a lot in his day, and so did John the Baptist., living very humbly, as shown here in our painting depicting Elijah being fed by the ravens. A harsher and more humble life is hard to imagine. Jesus, in our Gospel passage, is clearly indicating to the disciples, that to follow Him truly, they have to suffer with Him and make the necessary sacrifices. John the Baptist ultimately offered his own life when he was beheaded.

The beauty of this passage is also that we see the disciples bringing their questions to Jesus to hear what He might have to say. We are reminded of that here in seminary as well, to bring every query, question, thought to Christ, every hour of every day… in prayer…

Guercino’s representation of Elijah is profoundly human, showing the prophet sitting awkwardly, looking expectantly toward the birds above him. The birds coming from above, represent both physical and spiritual nourishment as Elijah places his life and entire faith in God’s commands…

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