19th Sunday (B) – Abbot Joel
19 Sunday in Ordinary Time-B
1 Kings 19:4-8
Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of Israel. He was faithful in his service to the Lord. Zealous to the extreme. In the scene just prior to this he has confronted 500 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Singlehandedly he has proved that the God of Israel is the true God. God sent fire to consume Elijah’s sacrifice. Elijah then set about killing off the prophets of Baal. This angered Jezebel the Queen. She promptly put a price on his head. But Elijah is getting tired of confronting the king and queen about their behavior; he is tired of battling other prophets; he is tired of being persecuted by king and queen. He finds himself alone, the only true prophet. His strength is weakening. The rest of Israel seems to have abandoned him. His message is doubted. He carried on the fight for the true God by himself ad now feels himself getting weaker physically, emotionally and spiritually. We would say he is getting depressed. He doubts himself and his vocation.
With the queen in hot pursuit he makes a decision to go south and out into the desert. He walked for 12 straight hours out and away where no one could follow him. With the last bit of energy he prays to God: Enough. I’ve had enough of other people’s plots; enough of being questioned about my authority; enough of standing alone for you and being your only witness. I give you back my life; take it; I want to join the ancestors. He finds a solitary desert bush (called a broom tree but it really is a hardy desert bush), lies down near it and falls sleep assuming he’ll not wake up again.
Do we not find ourselves in the same situation as Elijah from time to time. We look at our life and wish it were over. We try to stand up for the truth, in our community, in our society. We try to reflect the human and Christian values we know and cherish. Yet we become frustrated; no one listens or worse yet they smile and laugh at our concerns. Like Elijah we have a sense of being alone, even alone before God. We begin to doubt ourselves. We feel down and crushed. We are asked, who do you think you are? Where do you come from, anyway? Are you any better that the rest of us? We find ourselves caught between the whispers of others; our identity is being pulled apart and isolation comes over us.
Like Elijah we look for a way out. We too feel like running away into the desert; and if we are honest, we wish we could find some tree out there to lie under and fall asleep and not wake up to reality anymore.
In the gospel story we find that Jesus too is becoming a victim. The crowd turns on him. They start to complain about what he is telling them. They murmur about him. Who does he think he is talking about coming down from heaven? We know his parents. He is the son of that carpenter Joseph and his mother is still around. Jesus now feels alone, hemmed in, not understood. Jesus answers the complaining head on. Jesus makes it quite clear that he knows who he is: he knows his origins: I come from the Father. It is on his authority I come here. I have been living with him. I have seen him and it is his life I have come to bring. I bring a living giving bread. You can challenge my origins, you may not understand them or believe where I come from or who I am, but I stand firm, for the Father stands behind me and with me.
When the crowd challenges Jesus’ identity and turns on him, Jesus goes back to his origins in the Father. When the crowd wants to challenge Jesus’ mission and purpose he makes it very clear that the life he carries with him is authentic and that is what he offers. When Jesus tires of the crowds challenges to him, he returns to his father’s will and plan. God will teach you, scripture says, and he is doing that in my word. God’s will is Jesus’ food. On this he lives and strengthened by it goes forward to Jerusalem, to the cross. This same food of life he offers to those who wish to join him in his life with the Father. I am the living Bread from the Father, be nourished on this bread, eat it and you will live forever….When Jesus is pressed about who he is, he becomes stronger in his relationship with the father, and stronger, too, in offering that relationship to us and to the world. The relationship is nourished in the bread that Jesus gives.
Elijah is gently wakened by an angel. What a surprise. Elijah went to sleep all alone under a lone desert bush. He thought he’d not wake up again. Instead he is woken up and finds a small meal of cakes and water to nourish himself with. God wakes him up and God provides this food for the journey. Like most of us, we don’t hear the message the first time. We go back to sleep content with our feeling of being alone. But the angel comes back and touches us gently again: Get up eat, the journey is long; you need your strength. Then Elijah takes the food and drink again. But this time he is reminded what the food is for—it is for his journey to meeting God’s presence on the holy mountain. The angel offers food and reminder of the strength and power the food will give. Without the food God puts down dear the bush, Elijah would not have made it. The food is a reminder of who really is caring for him and who is directing his life in the first place.
When we forget who we are; when we have lost our sense of direction; when we are depressed because we feel alone or abandoned; when we, like Elijah, are ready to give up the fight, to stop serving; when even life is drained of meaning, then it is our turn to be touched by God’s angel. It is our turn to come forward and take and eat of the food that Jesus offers.
The bread that the Father gives is his only Son. He is giving for the life of the world. Coming forward to take of this bread is not an option or a luxury for us on the journey of life. The desert is real, we often come close to thinking we are alone. This bread is a necessity for us. Elijah has to be reminded twice to get up and eat. When we eat this bread Jesus offers, then like Elijah we are reminded of who we are, of where we come from and where we are truly headed. The Father is our origin too and it is to the Father we are going. Jesus offers food, not to those who have completed life’s journey, but to us who are on the way. This is our food; it is the viaticum that will strengthen us every day in the here and now. It is food for us who like Elijah and Jesus get discouraged at ourselves and others. The food points us in the right direction. May God’s angel touch each of us today and may we hear those strong and affirming words: Get up and eat, or the journey will be too long for you. It is not time to die, it is time to live!
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