12th August. 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
1 Kgs 19:4-8. Elijah is a broken and dispirited man, when, at his lowest point an angel gives him food and drink. Revived by these he reaches the mountain of God.
Eph 4:30-5:2. Disciples ought to be kind and forgiving towards one another as God is towards them.
Jn 6:41-51. Jesus is the new ‘manna’ from heaven, leading to eternal life. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.
1) Living by the Eucharist
The annual holiday has become an institution of our society; it is part of the contract of every working man and woman, I mention this because this is a time of the year when holidays are probably a preoccupation of our people, and further because it may help to launch a few thoughts on what “real living” is and specifically what the link is between the Eucharist and this “real living.”
Everyone looks forward to their holiday as the opportunity to get away and be free from some of their daily constraints and the pressures of their work. For the young person it can conjure up all kinds of possibilities of adventure, new experiences, a time to be oneself – or even to find oneself. More settled adults have more limited expectations. The holiday offers less the prospect of new discoveries or experiences, and more the chance for rest, the restoring of flagging energies and perhaps renewing their joyfulness and zest for life. Whether young or old the holidays are a time to be really ourselves and to really live and ideally they help us to live with more zest when we return to “normality.”
This time of leisure is a time for recreating, restoring our lives, ultimately to benefit our living. It is not in itself the object of our life. We do not live in order to have leisure, we have leisure in order to live. This may sound trite but most people feel it when a holiday is too long or perhaps just a little aimless, the idea of endless leisure somehow sounds intolerably boring.
This image of rest and recreation links up with Eucharist and Christian living. In today’s reading, we see Elijah as a man who has had too much of this life and its burdens. His mission to fight against the paganism promoted by Queen Jezebel had sapped his energies and hopefulness, and he wanted out. Unfortunately there was no such thing as a vacation for the prophet, but he did seek rest and renewal by going to the mountain of God, searching for God who alone could give him the renewed faith and courage he needed. It was out there in the wasteland of his life that he found the bread of God which gave him the strength he needed.
Like the adventurous youngster, the tired worker and the jaded prophet, the Christian, too, needs rest and recreation if he or she is to really live the life that God has given us. Today’s second reading has guidelines on what kind of living is involved here. It offers a standard against which we can measure ourselves, to see whether we are really living (in the Christian sense) or not. There are warning lights to show if our spiritual lives are running down or we are becoming dispirited – malice, bitterness, slander. These are forms of weakness which lead us to snap at our neighbour; they are destructive. We can usually rationalise them in terms of the difficulties we are facing… we have suffered disappointments, frustrations of our plans, emotional rejection by others, etc.
Living as a Christian involves trying to make our response to such hardships tune in with the response of Christ himself, For the Christian to “really live” is to live “like Christ” and that means to live “in Christ.” What does this kind living look like? It looks like constant kindness to those around us, constant forgiveness of their annoyances and the ways they reject us, the ability to be tender-hearted towards anyone in need. It is a kind of living to which we would all aspire and even occasionally achieve, but it is a kind of living that needs constant support and nourishment if it isn’t to die out altogether.
The perfect model of this way of living is Christ and he is the only possible source for us, only he can give it to us and nourish it in us. He does this by his giving himself to us in the Eucharist. Here we receive the bread of life, we are united to Christ through our believing in him, listening to his word and receiving his body and blood. If this communion with him is real and not sham then we have his life in us and it must show itself by our leaving Mass every Sunday to go and live like him. Living the Christian life really means living out what we have celebrated in the Eucharist. Equally we need to learn that without this frequent return to the bread of life we will be unable to keep the spirit of Christ alive in our hearts.
Just as we need holidays so we need spiritual recreation. Our Eucharist is a source of re-creation, a source of new life in us. Here we can find new inspiration and vision through the Word of God. Here we can have our faith renewed and we are given the strength to live it out.
Applying Elijah to ourselves
“He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.” This comes immediately after the life of Elijah has been threatened by Jezebel in verse two. However, let us briefly summarize what we know of Elijah beginning with his entrance onto the scene in chapter 17 where he makes a prophecy to Ahab about a forthcoming drought. After delivering the prophesy he is told to live beside the Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordan, where ravens bring him bread and meat in the morning and in the evening. His water needs are met by the stream beside him. When the stream dries up during the drought, Elijah moves on to Zarephath of Sidon where a jar of flour and a jug of oil from a home in which a widow and her son live become bottomless in regard to providing food for them. When the son of the widow dies from a sickness, Elijah raises him back to life.
Three years after Elijah’s prophecy of the drought, he confronts Ahab to inform him that this natural disaster is the result of the royal family following the Baal and obeying the prophets of Baal. The confrontation leads to the gruesome bloodbath between Elijah and the prophets of Baal where Elijah proves that Yahweh is the one, true God. Ahab tells Jezebel all that Elijah has done, and as aforementioned, Elijah is threatened by Jezebel and this causes Elijah to flee for his life to Beer-sheeba in southern Judah where he leaves his servant behind. Elijah then journeys a day into the desert and stops at a Broom tree and sits underneath it.
We have to wonder what leads Elijah to such despair. At first glance we see a man who is called by God for an important purpose, whose needs are provided for, and who is supported one hundred percent by God in his confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Yet, it seems that Elijah has reached his breaking point. Now he has isolated himself, from even his servant, and is wallowing in pain, fear, and depression in a lonely and seemingly Godforsaken place. He wants his life to end. He has had enough. Why? Perhaps Elijah became fully aware of his humanity, his sinfulness, his brokenness, his weakness, his mortality, his fatigue, and his human limitations and has lost sight of the glory, the power, the protectiveness, the support, the blessings, and the love of God which he has enjoyed in his ministry.
Now all he wishes is to be left alone, and to die in peace. The angel must wake him up not once, but twice. The response of God is fascinating, and something that can happen to any of us. What God how shows his prophet is decidedly smaller in scale than the earlier blasts of fire shooting down from the heavens which consumed the holocaust on the mountain top. Rather, we see a lone angel nudging Elijah to arise to eat a simple cake and a jug of water. When Elijah lies down again to sleep, the angel again nudges him to eat and drink more; for he has to face innto yet another phase in his life.
Right now, Elijah needed the simple staples of life and a purpose. There will be a time for theophanies and flaming chariots, but not now. This all preaches on a couple of levels. First, we would all do well to take note of the occasional spiritual, mental, and physical depression of each other. Depression knows no demographic boundaries. It affects young and old, rich and poor, the learned and the illiterate, and it touches all races. Most of us are not licensed psychiatrists or medical doctors, expert in treating depression, but we still have the insight to notice when someone we love is going through depression. Perhaps the most effective thing we can do mirrors the treatment of Elijah: to provide the basic, loving staples in life and a purpose: Food, water, affection, a nudge, a hug, kindness, hospitality, a shared prayer, a chore, a project, the opportunity to feel needed, an opportunity to feel the Love of God through another individual. Small things done with great love.
We look to this story of Elijah and learn from it. We have faith that God gives us what we need. We realize that we are oftentimes used as the angels of God here on earth to provide love and purpose for those in need. We will keep our lives filled with love and purpose, especially when we feel a dark call to a lonely place.
First Reading: First Book of Kings 19:4-8
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 4:32-5:2
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Gospel: John 6:41-51
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise them up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.
“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”