False Idols and Real Bread 19th Sunday, 8-9-15
HT 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 8-9-15, 1Kings 19: 4-8, Ps 34, Ephesians 4: 30-5: 2, John 6: 41-51
It hardly seems fair to read the short passage about Elijah without a quick re-cap of why the prophet was in such sad condition. As kids, we acted out this story; it was a favorite. The name of Queen Jezebel stands for deceit and danger. She worshiped the idol Baal and killed God’s prophets. To save God’s people, who were worshiping Baal and forgetting God, Elijah finally confronted Jezebel’s husband, King Ahab, in a dramatic showdown between Elijah and 450 of Baal’s prophets. (We used dollhouse figures and dominos for the prophets.)
The showdown was to decisively prove that the Lord God is real, active and alive, while Baal was only an idol made by human hands. The sacrifice offered to Baal remained untouched, but fire rained down and consumed the sacrifice to God, along with the altar, the stones, the water poured over the sacrifice, and even the dust around the altar. Elijah then killed Baal’s prophets. When Jezebel heard this, she swore that in 1 day, Elijah would be dead.
So we find Elijah exhausted, desperately afraid for his life, worn out from the struggle of standing alone and being faithful to God in a hostile environment. He has a kind of breakdown from the stress. An angel is sent to nurture him; Elijah is fed and allowed to rest. He was to journey to the Mountain at Horeb aka Mt. Sinai, where God had met Moses with thunder, earthquakes and fire, where God gave the 10 commandants and the covenant. The angel saw to it that Elijah was strengthened for the trip. Remember: God was not in wind, earthquake, or fire for Elijah, but in a still, small voice, exactly right for a weary prophet. God told Elijah to anoint a new king, and he would have the support of 7,000 men. Elijah was no longer fearful or alone.
The theme is the same as when the Israelites were hungry and discouraged after leaving Egypt- in both cases, bread was sent to nourish them on the journey, a tangible sign of God’s love, care, and presence in their lives. God’s love is indeed real, active and alive, in our lives now as it was then.
That sets the stage for salvation history to be fulfilled in the ultimate way, in Jesus. In our Gospel, Jesus is being berated by some of the crowd. John uses the label “the Jews” for those who claim to know God, yet refuse to accept Jesus for who he is. Their claims are as worthless as Baal. They remind us of the Israelites’ complaints against God. These men ridiculed Jesus and called him a fake. “How could Jesus”, they ask, “Come down from heaven, when he is the son of Mary and Joseph?” “This is untrue,” they say, “He’s making this all up, trying to make himself better than he is, causing trouble; he is an embarrassment.”
No wonder St. Paul warns us in the 2nd reading to not grieve the Holy Spirit with bitterness, anger, shouting, and reviling. When we whine, find fault, and deny the power of God, we blind others and ourselves to miracles happening around us. We prevent others and ourselves from receiving the nourishing bread and love that God has for us.
Jesus tells the people that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws them. No way does this mean that God picks and chooses only some to come to faith! Jesus explains, “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me, and whoever believes has eternal life.” In fact, in last week’s reading Jesus told the people, “I will not reject anyone who comes to me…this is the will of God, that I should not lose any he gave me, but that I should raise (them) on the last day.” That seems pretty clear.
Again, Jesus emphasizes his purpose in coming. “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is not the bread distributor, not the driver of the bread truck. Jesus, in the flesh, fully human/fully divine, has come to give himself. The lesson is not about the stomach, but about believing in God and being given eternal life.
For us, I think that we get so tied up in concern over self-worth, following rules, and our individual efforts, that we get confused. It’s hard to think that God wouldn’t have a better screening system for eternal life other than “belief”. Surely there will be background checks, resumes, references, interviews, won’t there? Did we work really hard, have good manners, do volunteer work, go to church even when we were on vacation? Hmmm….
I’m not at all suggesting that living in a positive way in our society is worthless, of course not. But if Jesus is the Bread of Life, the Living Bread, and his purpose of coming to earth was for us, then, it changes the whole way we approach what really matters, even how we think about Jesus and that mystery we call “indwelling of the Spirit”. Think of Jesus as the air we must have to breath. Leave the air; we die. Think of Jesus as the one absolute, the primary relationship from which all other relationships flow. Think if JesusBread is our food, and we become what we eat, then we become JesusPeople.
Instead of just me struggling to think of other ways to express this, I’m going to ask you to do something slightly outrageous. Please, send me an email this week, with 3 different ways you express this idea of Jesus as the living bread in your life. I’ll forward some of your ideas to Bill for next week’s bulletin so we can share new ways to express what living bread means to us. Thanks!