We can pray peacefully with the invitations to keep on keeping on. We celebrate the Eucharist so that the bland of the bread, and the at-times bland of our lives are transformed. Jesus is sent to embrace or pasts, encourage our nows and offer us to His world as the gifts we are. We prepare for this gracious exchange by our being present to both our truth and God’s.
To understand our First Reading, we must step back a little into the previous chapter. Jezebel had moved Israel’s religious alliance to Baal, a fertility god. She had created a large group of prophets to support that cult. Elijah is sent to confront this arrangement and he does. He challenges the prophets to a bull-burning contest. They fix a bull for a sacrifice to Baal and then they call down the power of Baal to set fire to the pile of wood and flesh. Elijah prepares a similar fixing. All the people of Israel gather around and fall to their faces in submission and belief when the God of Israel sets fire to Elijah’s preparation, but the bull of Baal remains uncooked.
The story is not ended there. Elijah marches these one hundred and fifty false prophets out into the desert and slaughters them all. When Ahab, Jezebel’s main-man reports this to her, she sends a messenger to tell Elijah that before a day is done, he will be done to as he had done to the prophets of Baal. Elijah has taken off for Mount Horeb in fear for his life. Our reading begins at the end of one day of this fear-flight.
God has asked much of Elijah and this predicament plunges his spirit into darkness and doubt. He wants to quit and turn his life over into the eternal hands of God. Of course God has more for him to do and so very gently wakes Elijah and feeds him twice. He has memories of God’s touching him, caring for him, and so he gets up and goes on. That’s all for this reading, though there is much more adventure for this person of faith.
Two weeks ago we heard the Gospel’s relating the miracle of Jesus’ multiplying five loaves and two fish to feed a multitude. After that, Jesus had sent His disciples across the lake while He prayed. A storm came up and He came up along side them and calmed their fears and the storm. When they arrived on the other side, a crowd who had been fed, met them wanting a little more of the action.
The remainder of this sixth chapter of John’s Gospel centers around the murmuring and arguing about Jesus’ words about His being from God and His being nourishment for eternal life. It is the beginning of this debate we listen to in today’s Gospel.
The feeding of the multitude forms a stage setting for this debate with the Jewish leaders who religiously remember the feeding of the Israelites in the desert after the Exodus. Jesus knows this too and reminds them of a past deed, once done, and the ever-presenting nourishment which He is. They believe they know Him, but He knows them too and speaks to them the new words of God’s old love.
John’s Gospel presents Jesus often as saying “I am” proclamations. When He came to the foundering boat on the lake after the feeding, Jesus calmed their fears by saying simply, “Fear not, I am.” Jesus tells His debate friends that He is the bread come down from heaven, the “bread of life”, and that those who do eat of His absolute totality will have eternal life. John does not present a narrative of Jesus’ instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper. This was not an important issue at the time of the Gospel’s being written. What was important, (and still remains important) was the acceptance or taking into ones life, the person and life of Jesus. Our believing in the Eucharistic’s real Presence is not the issue within this chapter. The feeding calls to mind for the Jews, the historical feeding. The central theme of the chapter is how the apostles took Him into their boat as He came toward them.
Allow me to say it clearly, I am not debating the real Presence, nor the importance of receiving communion. The chapter is bigger than this. Jesus is presented as offering Himself as human and divine and His loving desire for all men and women to take him into the boats of their passages and journeys. The living in Christ and Christ living in the lives of all humanity is why He came. The past deeds of God are being continued in Jesus Who came that we may have life and life is this; believing that He was and is sent into the world.
So Elijah wanted to give it all up and the apostles were being swamped with fear. Most of us have been there and were tempted to do that as well. God sends angels to “touch” us, gives us “Bread from Heaven” and always the urging to “get up and eat” and then get up and get on with the living. Our comfort is more than that we receive the Eucharist, but that we have taken Him into our boats and allowed Him to sweep us from underneath the “broom tree” and keeps us as His real presence in our real days. Elijah moaned, “This is enough, o Lord! Take my life.” Jesus says to us, “I am enough! You take my life, eat it all, live it all and you will be already living the eternal life I came and come to share.”
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Ps. 34, 2-3
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