19th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.
9TH AUGUST 2015
1 Kings 19: 4-8
John 6: 41-51
Rev Tony van Vuuren
Elijah, perhaps the greatest of the Old Testament prophets is on the run. He is fleeing for his life after defeating the prophets of the Canaanite deity Baal on Mount Carmel, thereby enraging Queen Jezebel who originally brought the prophets of Baal to Israel. She has sworn to kill Elijah. When we meet Elijah he is at the end of his strength in, of all places, the desert. Not even the surrounding terrain can bring him any comfort. There in the wilderness he asks for an end to his misery, “This is enough, O Lord! Take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
Elijah was God’s appointed prophet. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing, faithfully preaching God’s Word. Now he is filled with self-doubt. He has lost his spirit. When we lose our spirit we lose our greatest source of strength. Our spirit is to us what wings are to a bird or roots are to a tree. How many times have we said, “This is enough, O Lord?” but stopped short of praying for death!
When we experience hard times we sometimes think God is punishing us for doing something wrong. But Elijah didn’t do anything wrong. He is enduring the usual rejection and threats of violence inflicted on God’s prophets. Some endured more than threats and were killed for their faithful service to God — right up to the present day.
In the wilderness, under a broom tree, after praying for death, Elijah falls asleep. Then he has a double-dream theophany. An angel wakes him and provides food for him.. The prophet cannot continue — on his own. But God nourishes him for the “long journey” that lies ahead. When we find ourselves alone in a desolate space and feel we can no longer provide for ourselves, it is God who will nourish us. Elijah’s problems aren’t removed, but God provides what he needs for the next phase of his mission. God has plenty more for him to do. The theme of being fed on physical and spiritual bread is picked up in today’s gospel.
Elijah is a source of encouragement for us. He was a fiery, fearsome and powerful prophet. But at his moment of success his world falls apart. He is afraid, unsure and worn out. Still, he is within reach of God who, despite appearances, has not abandoned him, but seeks him out. It’s in weakness, when we cannot help ourselves that God proves to be our God.
Elijah wasn’t on a journey he chose for himself. He started as a fugitive, fleeing for his life. After the encounter with the divine messenger his flight has become a pilgrimage that will take him to a holy place. We too are journeying towards the mountain of God—eternal life! We too will experience moments of weakness and despair on that journey. Isn’t that the way life can be for us? We find ourselves in a crisis, or stressed out, hardly getting through one day after another. We cry out for help, when we discover we cannot provide for ourselves.
Somehow God visits us in our wilderness, gives us nourishment to get up and continue our journey. At the end, when we look back on the dreadful experience, we realize God was there for us each step of the way. We have, like Elijah, been led through our own desert, and there we discovered God.
The Elijah narrative encourages us to trust in the gracious love of God. It’s not a story about someone who has merited and “deserves” help from God. It is a tale of a human, who can’t help himself; which leaves plenty of room for God to move in with bread and water, nourishment to continue the journey. Elijah’s bread is an image that leads us to today’s gospel.
We are in the midst of John’s “Bread of Life Discourse.” At this point it is too early to be speaking of the Eucharistic bread. That begins to happen at the last verse when we shift from a discourse about faith in Jesus to the bread that is his flesh. In today’s selection “the bread that came down from heaven” is the Word of God.
Jesus is the life-giving Word. God is doing through him what God did for the Jews in the desert, feeding us through the Word. As we read in Deuteronomy (8:3) “We do not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
What do we hunger for? We hunger for a word from God and Jesus is that Word.
The Jews murmured at Jesus; they objected to what he said about himself; but Jesus doesn’t debate with his opponents. If they reason just from a human level they will never get to understand or accept Jesus. They are closed to what Jesus is saying to them. Logic doesn’t work for them in their encounter with Christ.
The way we come to Jesus is that we are “drawn” by the Father.
Seeing with the eyes of faith is a gift from God. What an opportunity Jesus’ listener’s have before them! The Father is drawing them to Jesus, but they are resistant. We cannot achieve God on our own; we must be drawn by God, the One who gives faith; and that invitation is always before us.
We learn from Elijah and Jesus today of God’s love for us. We are invited to put our faith into practice. Faith is not an escape from the sometimes harsh realities of life. Elijah must return to eventually face his enemies. Jesus will not escape the pain and death that lies ahead for him. Nor can we just shrug our shoulders and leave everything for God to take care of. Our faith enables us to experience God’s presence with us both as comfort and encouragement so that we can do what we have to do.
To quote St. Therese of Lisieux;
“Our Lord does not come down from heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to Him — the heaven of our souls.”