NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Jn. 6:51
Now there’s a name that immediately gets our attention. In today’s world, a “Jezebel” is a woman of loose morals, a female who has a very bad reputation.
This connotation goes all the way back to the time in which our first reading from the Book of Kings takes place.
Jezebel was a Phoenician princess who married a Jewish king named Ahab. What’s important about her is that as soon as she assumed a powerful position in Israel, she demanded that her religion – the worship of a pagan god named Baal – become the national religion of all Israel.
Yahweh, the god of Abraham, the god of Moses, was out. Baal was in.
To achieve this goal, she began an all-out war on destroying any vestige of the God of Israel, most especially his prophets. As a result, the bloodshed she perpetrated included the hunting down of the most important Jewish prophet of that time: Elijah.
This is the setting of the stage for the scene we’re presented with in today’s first reading. Elijah the prophet is on the run. His life’s at stake. He’s become the queen’s Most Wanted target.
So he tries to hide in the desert.
And this is where we find Elijah as today’s first reading picks up the story – under a tree suffering from what we would call a major case of “burnout,” maybe even of despair. He’s exhausted. He’s had it. He’s fed up. He doesn’t want to fight this battle any longer.
In fact, his exhaustion is so total that he cries out: “Enough, O Lord! Take my life.”
Most of us can probably identify with the plight of Elijah, at least to some extent.
How many of us, for example, have gotten to a similar point of depression, maybe even of despair in our own lives?
How many of us have wanted to join Elijah in a desert somewhere and just cry our eyes out?
How many of us have had those feelings of being targeted by others with the threats of meanness and false gossip, or those feelings of just being overwhelmed by our physical sufferings?
How many of us have had an experience of mental anguish so tortuous that it made us want to run and hide?
When we do find ourselves in that dark place, when we have joined Elijah under that tree in near despair, it’s important that we remember the rest of this story. If we don’t, we’ll miss out on an ending that is transforming.
Because what happens next to Elijah is that God sends an angel – not only once, but twice. The angel brings with him food and drink. So much so, that Elijah is changed, revitalized. His inner self is radically altered. “ …(T)hen strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God.”
God sends angels.
That’s what this story tells us in the end. God sends angels into our lives. And the angels are sent not in any way to reprimand or shame or blame. Quite the contrary.
God sends angels into our lives disguised as ordinary people – but people who can lift us up by their encouragement, nourish us with their affirmation, and prod us on with their example.
God sends angels into our lives disguised as words – words like those of Sacred Scripture, words that can enchant us with the wonders of a God who fell from the heavens and dwelt among us, words that will paint the picture of a God who can show us the wounds he endured in joining us in our sufferings, and words that speak of a God who can take us by the hand and walk us to the opening where together we can peer into the empty tomb – and see with our own eyes the witness of victory!
God sends angels that take on all kinds of different shapes and forms: artists, freedom fighters, medical experts, counselors, teachers, musicians, poets.
But most of all, God sends into our lives his very own self in the form of bread that we can eat – a bread that can feed that deepest part of us that hungers so desperately for nourishment – a bread that can reinvigorate us to the point that we can, like Elijah the prophet, walk to “the mountain of God.”
That’s what’s available to us at this very moment: that same bread, that same promise of intimate union with God.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.