Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth's Vineyard Giclee. Public domain print by Sir Frank Dicksee.

Sustenance from Christ is eternal life

  • July 30, 2015

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Aug. 9 (1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51)

Elijah couldn’t take another step. He had been running for his life from the wicked queen Jezebel and her henchmen. He was so exhausted that he even prayed that God would take his life. Who has not felt like that at one time or another in their life?

Sometimes one can be completely overwhelmed and paralyzed. At these crucial points, there is the great temptation to give up. That is why it’s so important to be open to the signs of God’s care and presence.

Elijah fell asleep under a broom tree and it was at this point that he experienced the presence of an angel commanding him to get up and eat. He ate and drank his fill and fell asleep again. If that were not enough, the angel woke him a second time for another round of food and drink.

This sustenance at divine hands kept him going for the journey to Mount Horeb.

The number 40, a special biblical number, alerts us to the element of testing and purification in this journey. Elijah had to get over the idea that he had to stand alone against the world and all its evil. This was not a solitary undertaking — he was not and never had been alone. Elijah was cared for — he was given what he needed — and he was protected.

Often exhaustion results from thinking and acting as if everything depends on us. It does not. We do what we have to do, but there is a force far greater than ourselves that works ceaselessly on our behalf.

God will sustain us in myriad ways according to our own needs and situation. When we are tempted to give up, we can heed the angel in a metaphorical sense by getting up to eat and drink. We don’t have to win the race or even come in third place. We are only called to finish it.

Grieving the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem possible, but there it is in Scripture. The thought of actually grieving the Spirit is appalling. But from the description of the things that cause this grief, its heart must be positively broken by now. Bitterness, wrath, slander, malice and unkindness of all sorts — when and where have these not been in abundant supply, even in religious circles?

The good news is that we can bring comfort and joy to the Spirit by being kind, tender-hearted, forgiving and loving. This is all summed up by the exhortation to imitate God. We do this not only because it is “nice” but because that is the way God is, and Jesus gave us a perfect example of these qualities in human form. When we do so, we have given God a great and precious gift.

The crowd couldn’t believe their ears. Jesus had said something that seemed to them stupid and outrageous. He had said that He was the bread come down from Heaven. On a literal level, this made no sense at all.

How could He be from Heaven — after all, they knew His parents and family? Jesus insisted that anyone who had been listening to God in an open and spiritually sensitive manner would be led to Him and would have faith. Only in this way could anyone move beyond the absurdity of the literal sense of His self-declaration. He insisted that He was uniquely qualified to reveal God to humanity, and that all previous forms of sustenance — even ones from God — were temporary and fleeting. Sooner or later, people were again in need.

But Jesus was offering sustenance of a completely different order — permanent, life-giving, fulfilling and eternal. Those who fill and nourish their soul with Jesus and everything that He is and stands for will become someone and something new and live eternally in God’s presence, even in this life.

Being nourished by divinity will not prevent us from dying in a biological sense — this is the order of nature — but we will never be separated from God. The source of that nourishment is the flesh of Jesus, given on the cross out of love for the sake of the world. As in the story of Elijah, Jesus will give us strength and nourishment on the journey when we most need it.

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