19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The First Book of Kings provides this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word with its first biblical reading.
Unified Israel’s kings are the central figures in these books, however the prophets, such as Elijah, receive more prominent mention. This weekend’s reading mentions Elijah. He wrote during the first half of the ninth century B.C.
In the reading, Elijah spoke in the first person. He is weary and discouraged. He even asks God to take his life. Then, he fell asleep. When he awoke, a hearth cake and a jug of water were at his side. He ate and drank. An angel came, indicating that this restoring sustenance was from God. The angel ordered Elijah to continue his journey. Elijah obeyed.
The second reading this weekend is from the Epistle to the Ephesians. This context surrounds all the epistles. Living the Gospel of Jesus was not easy in the first century. As the old theologians would have described it, the first Christians were beset by temptations from “the world, the flesh and the devil” at every side.
Christians in Ephesus faced a special challenge. They lived in a thriving seaport and commercial center amid many vices and distraction. Ephesus also was a major pagan shrine. Pilgrims to its great temple to Diana, the Roman goddess, filled the city.
This reading is very practical. It calls upon the Christian Ephesians to rid themselves of all bitterness and anger, and to rise above gossip and malice. Then, rid of sin, it calls upon them to be compassionate and forgiving, noting that God had forgiven them.
St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. Jesus declares, “I am the bread that comes down from heaven.” The audience does not accept this phrase well. They spurn Jesus. After all, they know Jesus as a neighbor and as a relative. It was difficult to see the Redeemer in someone so familiar.
The Lord then enters upon a discourse, one of the most magnificent passages in the New Testament. He is the only channel to God for humans. He will rise to new life “on the third day.” It is important to note, when these words were spoken, the crucifixion was in the future.
Jesus continues. He speaks, and therefore God speaks. He says, “I am the bread of life … I, myself, am the living bread.” Anyone who consumes this bread attains everlasting life.
Everyone can identify with Elijah, the prophet featured in the reading from First Kings. Whatever the circumstance, life for any of us can be wearying and distressing. Any of us can be reduced to desperation, as was Elijah.
In this realization, in the face of the quite human and very universal reality, the Church speaks this weekend with great consolation and reassurance.
First, it recalls for us, through the first reading, that God sustains us and strengthens us. He sustained and strengthened Elijah, who was no dearer to God than are we.
Secondly, God has given us Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus is in our midst. He shares human nature with us. Born of Mary, a human, Jesus is as human as we.
Jesus is the “bread of life.” Aptly this reading is associated with the Eucharist. The food mercifully given by God is more than material food, although it appears as bread and wine. It is the Body and Blood of the Lord. It refreshes our souls.
The last element in this weekend’s lesson comes again from Elijah. Life continues — often with hardships. As disciples, seeking eternal life, we must continue our long walk to the mountain of God. More often than not, it will be walking uphill. God will give us strength. He awaits us with everlasting life and peace.
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