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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

Earthquakes Shake the Foundations

"And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake"

(1 Kings 19:11b NKJV)

Living in Italy we live with the telluric movements of an earthquake-prone land, somewhat like our souls, continually trembling. Even recently, tremors have reminded us that the earth beneath our feet trembles, reopening wounds and rekindling fears. Faced with violent and unforeseen natural events, we feel defenseless: avalanches, tidal waves, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions have always been frightening precisely because we are unable to control the irrational forces of nature. Although, we should admit, sometimes there is our contribution for ordinary events to become catastrophes. Unfortunately, even if we are frightened by earthquakes, we live with inner shaking and upheavals capable of worse devastation, and which likewise manifest themselves suddenly without leaving a way out, and the daily news is chock full of them. In the Old Testament as in the New, the earthquake is often a sign of something ending and something else beginning. How can we fail to recall the episode of Elijah on Mount Horeb when an earthquake shakes the mountain, forcing the prophet out of the cave in which he had been hiding. The text clearly says that God was not in the earthquake. Yet the earthquake is a sign of God's presence. The earth shakes because it is unable to "bear" the weight of such a presence that destabilizes man, and by making the ground shake beneath him or jolt what is around reminds him of how wretched and small he is. This is what happened to Moses on the same mountain, which trembled "greatly" (Exodus 19:18).

Matthew's gospel reports four seismic events that would happen in Jesus' time up to the apotheosis of the resurrection: "And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it" (Matthew 28:2). The storm on the Sea of Galilee (8:24), according to some translations, would be caused by just such a seismic event. Who knows, the storm you are facing may not originate from a submerged earthquake that is disrupting your outer surroundings. Do not be frightened then by what you see, but let the walls of internal oppression fall and the prisons open and you find freedom. As with the centurion and those who stood guard with him under the cross, this earthquake can probably help you recognize and declare, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (27:54). For Matthew, Jesus' death and resurrection are not ordinary, but earth-shattering events (like earthquakes) in which God acts and accomplishes the salvation of humankind. This is the terminal of divine action and His Word. Jesus' own words describing an event that has not yet happened, "There will be famines and earthquakes in various places" (24:7) might say that when God's salvation is accomplished with Jesus' return, everyone will notice. What may seem frightening today, bringing suffering to those who suffer the consequences, in the Gospel projects us to a future salvation. And I would like to do the same with this reflection.

As Elijah came out of the cave, it is time for someone to come out of the recesses of fear. Let us shake from our heads and shoulders all the threats that are thrown at us like arrows in a medieval battle. Whatever the cataclysm that has come upon your life, do not lose the perspective of eternity. In Philippi, the earthquake gave freedom to the prisoners, but it was the occasion for the jailer and his family members to receive salvation. "Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed" (Acts 16:26). What Paul and Silas could not conceive, God manifested, just as Alessandro Manzoni would write in "The Betrothed": God "never disturbs the joy of his children except to prepare for them a more certain and greater one". Who knows then that the earthquake that is shaking the foundations of your security or convictions is not a sign of the divine presence intervening to break chains and break through hitherto barred doors. It is up to you to believe it!


Weekly Bible Reading

Plan #47

November 14, Lamentations 3-5; Hebrews 10:19-39

November 15, Ezekiel 1-2; Hebrews 11:1-19

November 16, Ezekiel 3-4; Hebrews 11:20-40

November 17, Ezekiel 5-7; Hebrews 12

November 18, Ezekiel 8-10; Hebrews 13

November 19, Ezekiel 11-13; James 1

November 20, Ezekiel 14-15; James 2

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