Sunday Scripture Readings

NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, AUGUST 10 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34; Ephesians 4:30, 5:2; John 6:41-45 OUR GOOD NEWS: Already prefigured in the Old Testament, Jesus is our food of endless life. The peerless prophet Elijah is best remembered for awesome works of power. He raised the dead, fed the hungry and single-handedly confronted and triumphed over Israel’s sinful political leaders. But now (first reading), only a few verses following his dramatic defeat of Baal prophets on Mount Carmel, the prophetic "spirit of power" had been mysteriously withdrawn. Elijah became a broken man, despairing, doomed, even eager to die. Without food and water, he had gone too far into the desert to go back. Even if he survived the return journey, royal agents waited with a warrant for his arrest and execution. "Enough, Lord. Take my life (Hebrew "nepesh," "spirit"). Collapsed under the only available shade, Elijah fell into a sleep of exhaustion while awaiting release through speedy death. Did Elijah want to save his life (he had fled to safety in the desert) or lose it (he prayed to die)? Would he return to service as God’s prophet? Israel’s (and our) fate hung on this man’s, since Elijah alone remained faithful, able to mediate between the people and their Lord. God showed He wasn’t finished with His Chosen People and their erstwhile prophet. But instead of restoring the prophetic spirit He provided a mysterious though seemingly ordinary food and drink: round, flat "hearth cake" like Arab bread still eaten in the Near East and water. To eat and drink is to revive the life spirit ("nepesh"), so Elijah is saved. To his request, "take my ‘nepesh,’" the Lord in effect responded, "Eat, and keep your ‘nepesh.’" Elijah, however, nibbled and sipped, then lay down again, not wanting to delay welcome death. A second time God’s abrupt command through His "messenger" (here, divine presence in human form rather than distinct creature) brought Elijah to his feet. "Get up and eat, for the way is too great for you." A second time the prophet "ate and drank" and, unbidden, went on. Elijah had kept his life. Miraculous food provided by God sustained him through a 40-day pilgrimage to Horeb (Mount Sinai), where Elijah would be commissioned anew as God’s prophet to carry on the struggle. Like Elijah, all of us learn to realize our weakness and frailty, and are able to experience God’s empowering grace capable of transforming our powerlessness and despair. In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in contrast to Moses, was constituted unique mediator in whom faith-trust must be placed to receive "eternal life" in the promised Kingdom of God. "Manna" represented God’s gift rained down "from heaven" upon Israelites to prolong their earthly life. Jesus proclaims Himself a new and perfect manna as incarnate Son of God, literally "come down from heaven." All of us who eat of Him are vivified into a new and transcendent, perfected and endless "eternal life." Give thanks to the Lord!

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