CYCLE B | ORDINARY TIME | WEEK 19
– By Fr Damian Ikemefuna Ozokwere, C.S.Sp.
In the first reading of this Sunday we see the account of how God, through an angel, fed the Prophet Elijah with bread to strengthen him for his long journey in the wilderness. And in the Gospel reading, Jesus continues to further his teaching on the Eucharist following his earlier miracle of the loaves.
The prelude to the first reading is the remarkable event recorded in 1Kgs.18 about the defeat of the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. Elijah proved to the people that, Yahweh was the only true God, when Yahweh answered him through the consuming fire. After that, Elijah ordered the slaughter of all the false prophets of Baal, who numbered about four hundred and fifty. This infuriated Jezebel (the wife of king Ahab) who introduced the worship of Baal to Israel from her foreign country of Moab, and she then sought to kill Elijah. On hearing this, Elijah was scared, and he fled for his life, taking a long journey into the wilderness where he felt tired and depressed and finally got into a deep sleep.
One wonders here, how a man who fearlessly challenged and killed about 450 false prophets of Baal, is now running away in fear from a single woman -Jezebel queen of Baal. Certainly, fear and depression can diffuse one’s inner strength.
Today’s first reading (1Kg 19:4-8) therefore, relates how God woke Elijah up through an angel and fed him with a mysterious bread which recalls the manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness on their way to the Promise Land and it as well foretells the Eucharistic bread which Jesus will give for our spiritual journey.
Elijah’s solitary journey in the wilderness is likened to our own daily faith journey, in which sometimes we grow wearied and depressed. And, as the bread with which Elijah was fed serves as a divine provision to sustain him on the long journey ahead, in like manner, the bread of the Eucharist which Jesus offers his disciples sustains us on the journey to our eternal heavenly home.
However, if care is not taken, we can even miss or refuse this ‘Bread of life’ like the Jews of old who murmured and complained today about Jesus’ claim to be the Bread of Life that comes down from heaven.
The Hebrews of old, as we know, were given to murmuring, especially those who lived in the times of Moses during the Exodus event. They easily murmur, as many of us do today, at any slightest challenging situation. They murmured on their way to the Promise Land when they had no bread, or no meat, or no water. It was all Moses’ fault, they said angrily and nearly stoned him.
Today, they murmured about Jesus’ claim of to be the ‘Bread of Life’ that comes down from heaven. Why? Because they claimed to know Jesus’ family background and were convinced that he did not come down from heaven.
Well, they would have been so correct, if that was all about Jesus. If Jesus were simply human (as they misconceived), certainly Jesus could not be ‘the Bread of life from heaven’. And Jesus could not give them that which was infinitely greater than the manna their ancestors ate in the desert. However, the good news remains, that, Jesus is not just human but God-man for the sake of our salvation. Hence, the Jews were absolutely mistaken in their opinion.
Therefore, to accept the gift of ‘The Bread of Life’ which only Jesus offers, we have to first of all accept that Jesus was more than human. He was Divine. And to refuse to believe in Him is to refuse the eternal life which he offers as the sacrificial Lamb and the Bread of life.
When, therefore, we approach the Table of the Eucharist, we are receiving Jesus, the bread of life, for our healing, pardon, and the comfort of our souls. Just as bodily nourishment restores lost strength and vigour, so also the Holy Eucharist strengthens us in grace and charity, kills concupiscence and enables us to break with disordered attachments to creatures.
Reflect today on what your inner heart so much yearns for. Do you really hunger for Jesus as – ”the Bread of life” or are you wondering and murmuring about this like the Jews of his time? Always give the Lord, Jesus, the first place in your life and allow His teaching and values to determine and colour your daily decisions and choices.