In our first reading from the first Book of Kings we hear that Elijah is sitting under a broom tree asking God to take his life. How is it that Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, is sitting there asking God to take his life?
This is especially surprising, since just in the chapter before, CH 18 of 1 Kings, there is the account of the powerful story of a showdown of faith between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal, who he humiliates and has put to death. Yet when news reaches Ahab and Jezebel, the king and queen of Israel, Jezebel sends word to Elijah that she has called for his death. Elijah is running for his life.
Yet in Elijah’s fear and despondency, God leads Elijah to a broom tree, one of the few types of bushes that grew tall enough to provide shade in the Palestinian desert. Elijah is then awaken to find a hearth cake and a jug of water. An angel of the Lord is also sent to encourage Elijah to eat and drink. God provides for Elijah in his time of need. If we read on we will see how God helps to restore Elijah’s courage and deepen his faith and trust.
In our Gospel today we continue with chapter 6 of John. To quickly summarize some of the key points of what we have heard from the past few Sundays. Jesus has miraculously fed the five thousand, they sought to make him king, Jesus retreated from them, and they would track him and his apostles down the next day. Jesus then began his Bread of Life Discourse.
Jesus is the One from above, the One who has seen and has been sent by the Father, the One who is fully divine, as well as fully human speaking to those who have come to him. He has responded to the people’s request regarding how they were to “accomplish the works of God” and his response was that they are to believe in him, he who had been sent by God. They were to “work for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give”. Jesus himself, as he did with the multiplication, will provide the food that will endure for eternal life. Jesus shared that he is this food, the bread from heaven, that will give life to the world.
What Jesus has shared thus far and what he shares in today’s Gospel has been given to him to say from his Father and is for everyone who is willing to accept his invitation. Then he adds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).
It is at this moment in his presentation that Jesus and his followers come to a crossroads. Jesus has been talking about the reality that he is the bread of life, which his listeners are struggling to understand, yet, they are willing to follow along to see where he is going. Once he states, at the end of today’s reading, that this bread “is my Flesh”, those in the crowd who only the day before sought to unanimously make him king by popular acclamation, with these three words began to grow very uncomfortable.
This discourse is moving away from a figurative discussion to a more dramatic and concrete presentation with horrific implications. After an initial gasp or two, some murmuring would have begun, centering around such questions such as:
“Did he really just say he would give us his flesh?”
“Is he equating himself with the bread from heaven, and the bread he is offering is his flesh?”
“Is he saying what I think he is saying?”
Yes! The Son is saying all these things because the Father has given all that he is, holding nothing back, emptying himself into the Son. The Son has received all that the Father is and returns himself, giving all that he is, holding back nothing to the Father. This eternal communion of Love shared between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. Jesus is offering all that he is to his disciples and to us, FOR OUR CONSUMPTION. He is holding nothing back of himself in his offer.
We are invited to this intimacy of relationship, to receive all that Jesus is. We are invited to participate in the divine communion of Love, the Holy Trinity.
God provided shade, a cake, and water for Elijah, Jesus provided the multiplication of the loaves and fish for the multitude, now Jesus is stating that he will provide his very self. Jesus is stating that God is present for us, no matter what.
Here is a true story that may help us to get a glimpse of the depths of God’s love for us.
On December 7, 1988 an earthquake devastated the northwestern section of Armenia, killing an estimated 25,000 persons. In one small town, directly after the earthquake, a father rushed to his son’s school only to find that the school had been flattened and there was no sign of life.
But he had no thought of turning back. He had often told his son, “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you when you need me!”
Though the prospects appeared hopeless, he began feverishly removing rubble from where he believed his son’s classroom had been. Other forlorn parents only wailed hopelessly. “My son!” “My daughter!” Some told the father to go home, that there was no chance that any of the pupils could be alive. To which this loving father replied, “I made my son a promise that I’d be there for him anytime he needed me. I must continue to dig.”
Courageously, he proceeded alone. No one volunteered to help him. He simply had to know for himself: “Is my boy alive or is he dead?”
With strength and endurance beyond himself, the faithful, loving father continued to dig… for 8 hours… for 12 hours… 24 hours… 36 hours. Then in the 38th hour, as he heaved away a heavy piece of rubble, he heard voices. “Armand!” he screamed.
A child’s voice responded: “Dad! It’s me,… Armand!” Then, “I told the other kids not to worry. I told ’em that if you were alive, you’d save me, and when you saved me, they’d be saved. You promised you would always be there for me! You did it, Dad!”
Moments later, the dad was helping his son Armand and 13 other frightened, hungry, thirsty boys and girls climb out of the debris. Free at last! When the building collapsed, these children had been spared in a tent-like pocket. The father lovingly carried his son home to his mother, where he was given the care he needed.
When the townspeople praised Armand’s dad, his explanation was, “I promised my son, ‘No matter what, I’ll be there for you!'”
This is what Jesus is saying to those gathered around him in today’s Gospel. This is what Jesus is saying to us today. My Father is here for you. I and the Father are one, and I will not leave you orphans, I will give you my very self to eat, so that as I and the Father are one, we too can be one.
No matter what we are going through, no matter who has let us down, Jesus is here for us. We can come anytime, receive him in the Mass, look at him as he looks at us from the tabernacle, but also in our everyday lives and interactions with one another Jesus is present.
We will receive Jesus in the Eucharist today so as to be more conformed to him, but this is not just for ourselves. This is so that we may go and bring Jesus to others in our lives. We do this by following Paul’s guidance to the Ephesians from our second reading.
– Put away falsehood and speak the truth
– Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun set on your anger
– Do not steal but do honest work so to share with one who has need
– No foul or evil language is to come out of our mouths, but we are only to say the good things people need to hear
– All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice
– be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
Like Armand’s Dad, no matter what, God is here for us, just exponentially multiply his presence. God loves us more than we can ever mess up, more than we can ever imagine. May we turn back to him, let us receive Jesus today, let us receive and savor his love in the depths of our minds, hearts, and souls. May we go forth to be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love and share his love with one another.
Photo: Artistic representation of the Shroud of Turin