NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2018)
1 Kings 19:4-8
You won’t find Elijah’s prayer from our first reading from 1 Kings in any extended collection of prayers for believers. “This is enough, O Lord!,” Elijah states with obvious frustration. “Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Elijah is fed up and weary. He has been doing the Lord’s bidding, and it has done nothing but cause him a great deal of trouble. If slaying the several hundred prophets of Baal wasn’t bad enough (this did not endear him to a great many people!), he has seriously upset Jezebel who is seeking to kill him. Elijah is on the run and he is at wit’s end. Elijah just wants to die, and so he lays down under the broom tree and prays for death.
While this unorthodox prayer of Elijah will not find its way into any official prayer book, it surely does display feelings which are not completely foreign to most of us. Indeed, the share of life’s burdens are not distributed evenly, and there are times when many are tired and overwhelmed, unable to move forward or face the light of another day. Like Elijah, we just want a time out. We want the pain to go away, the upset to disappear, the anxiety to lessen, the work to diminish, the responsibilities to end. Yes, the example of Elijah should bring us great comfort, and cause whatever guilt we might feel for thinking this way to disappear.
It is when Elijah appears to be at his lowest that God comes to him, touches his heart, and nourishes him. And he does this not once, but twice, as if once was just not enough. God is persistent; He does not give up easily. There was still more for Elijah to do before his time on this earth would end. Since, as the Psalmist tells us, “the Lord encamped around those who fear him and delivers them,” all Elijah had to do was “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
In the fullness of time God sent His only Son into the world that all people might be reunited with their loving God and enjoy eternal life. The world was weary, and it had lost its way, and it was Jesus who would teach them how to get back to God and the things of God. Like Elijah the people were murmuring, always murmuring. “God, we’re tired” – in Jesus they would find rest! “God, we’re lost” – in Jesus they would find their Way! “God, we’re hungry” – in Jesus they would find the bread from heaven, which would satisfy their most profound of hungers, for “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
The sign of the feeding of the five thousand in John’s gospel is intended to lead the people to hunger after that food that satisfies the longings of the soul, and when Jesus declares that He himself is that bread, the crowd is confused and they murmur. In Jesus, God is doing what God has done from the beginning of time. God has “lifted up the lowly,” raised up those who were down, saved the people from their “distress,” and fed the hungry. God did it for Abraham and Moses, for the Judges and the Prophets, and now he does it for all people in His Son, Jesus. As God came to Elijah in his lowest moment and nourished him, so also does He come to us when we are down, nourishing us with His very Body and Blood. John’s gospel beautifully proclaims that the Eucharist is food for the journey of life, and it is the Eucharist that strengthens us to be “imitators of God,” who “live in love, as Christ loved us.” When we are tired and weary, and we seem like we just cannot go on, let us, with grateful hearts, be nourished by the bread that came down from heaven, recognizing that our communion with the Lord will enable us to “be kind to one another,” and “compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven” us in Christ (Eph. 5:2).