Nineteenth 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, although the prophets, such as Elijah, receive more prominent mention. This reading refers to Elijah, who 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. Surrounding the composition of all the epistles was the fact that living the Gospel was not easy in the first century A.D. As the theologians later would describe it, the first Christians faced temptations from “the world, the flesh and the devil” at every side.
Christians in Ephesus underwent a special challenge. They lived in a thriving seaport and commercial center amid many vices and distraction, but Ephesus also was a major pagan shrine. Pilgrims to its great temple to Diana, the Roman goddess, flocked to the city.
This reading is very practical, calling upon 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 actually 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 recalls God’s gift of manna to the Hebrews in the desert during the Exodus. Without the manna, they would have starved to death.
Without nourishment, living beings perish. Again, God provides sustenance to prevent death. It is Jesus, the “living bread,” the “flesh” of the Lord, the Body and Blood of Christ, freely given for the life of all humankind.
Whoever eats this “bread” will live eternally.
Everyone can identify with Elijah, the prophet featured in the reading from First Kings. Whatever the circumstances, life for any of us can be demanding and even distressing. Anyone can be reduced to desperation, as was Elijah. So, in the face of the quite human and universal reality of meeting difficulties in life, 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 gives 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 enlivens 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 mountaintop of God. We will be walking uphill, often on a steep incline. God nourishes and supports us. He awaits us with everlasting peace.
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