Apparently, responding to the rigors of politics, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was quoted last week claiming to be “the Jesus Christ of politics.” Digging the hole deeper for himself, he explained, like Jesus, “I sacrifice myself for everyone.”
While his comments lack reverence and humility — something that has been surgically removed from many a politician — his comments do little to offend me.
In fact, the best I can figure, God doesn’t need us to be offended. God pretty well stands on his own. Case in point, the story of Elijah.
Elijah, a prophet shared by Christian and Jewish faiths, found himself in a tight space when the leaders of a renegade cult began railing against his God. Christian texts record the story in 1 Kings.
The cult had been steering Jewish affections away from Elijah’s God, so Elijah challenged 450 of the cult leaders to build a big altar. Now, in today’s terms, that’s like one of my backyard barbecues out of control.
At this barbecue, Elijah issued a challenge: Let’s take turns asking our gods to ignite the barbecue. The first god to ignite the fire, wins.
The cult leaders won the coin toss and they prayed all night for a little shock and awe. You guessed it. Nothing.
Now, I’ll admit, Elijah got a little rude at this point. OK, “taunting” is the word scripture uses. “Call a little louder — he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s on vacation, or overslept.”
Yes, he was a bit short on tolerance, but let’s not read 21st century political correctness into ancient texts, shall we?
Anyway, here’s the part I love. In The Message translation, it reads that “there was not a flicker of response.” Pun obviously intended.
Then it was Elijah’s turn. He told his helpers to drench the firewood with water three times. Then Elijah prayed a prayer not much shorter than my kids pray at dinner each night. “God, . . . make it known that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant. . . . Answer me and reveal to this people that you are God.”
It’s that “reveal” part I like. Elijah didn’t say, “Oh, God, let me show ’em! Can I, huh, can I?”
Nope. Elijah said: “Show ’em who you are, God.”
Suddenly, the proof was in the poof when “the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench.”
Now, unless this water was lighter fluid, I’m bettin’ this was miracle time.
You see, what I like about Elijah is he didn’t get his robe in a bunch over people who didn’t reverence his god. He figured God is God, and he’d likely stick up for himself.
True enough, Elijah played a supporting role, but all he really was doing was trying to provide God a little something to work with.
And today, that’s the same way God shows up. OK, not so much in the fire and stuff, but often within the venues we provide.
Those venues are often found within our kind words, our charitable contributions and our efforts to bring justice in the world. True, these efforts may often seem like soaked firewood, but God finds ways to ignite our efforts in unimaginable ways.
So, at the end of the day, if I’m feeling a little miffed over the belittling remarks of some insensitive politician, I try to remember the story of Elijah, the man who humbly offered God something to work with and was smart enough to jump clear of the fire.