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11 Pentecost, Year B: The Bread of Life

SUNDAY’S READINGS | August 8, 2021

2 Sam. 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 or 1 Kings 19:4-8
Ps. 130 or Ps. 34:1-8
Eph. 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

The prophet Elijah had won a great contest against the prophets of Baal.

The prophets of Baal limped about their altar and called upon their god; they inflicted themselves with wounds, and yet there was no voice, no answer, no response. Then, Elijah approached his offering and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are the God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kgs. 18:36-37).

The Lord’s response was swift and dramatic. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kgs. 18:38). Elijah, enthralled by this display of divine power, went on to kill the prophets of Baal in the Wadi Kidron. Perhaps, for a brief time, he felt the thrill of victory.

When King Ahab reported all that happened to his wife, Jezebel, who was a devotee of Baal and the prophets of Baal, the queen was enraged, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow” (1 Kgs. 19:2). Understandably, Elijah was terrified.

He fled into the wilderness, sat under a solitary broom tree, and wished for his immediate death. Afraid and exhausted, he sat down and fell asleep. Twice, an angel of the Lord touched him and commanded him to eat and drink. Finally, “He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mountain of God” (1 Kgs. 19:8). The food given and the strength gained from it recall the manna given to the children of Israel and anticipates the Christian dispensation in which Jesus Christ becomes our daily bread.

We are, now and then, as the prophet, afraid and exhausted. A sense of defeat and desperation may follow hard even upon a moment of success or victory. St. Augustine’s remark about worldly prosperity applies, in some sense, even to “religious” success. “If some prosperity smiled upon me, it irked me to catch it, because almost before it is grasped, it flies away” (Confessions, VI, vi).

We cannot satisfy an endless need from a contingent and temporary source. Only the everlasting food of God can fill an infinite hunger. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

We think here of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but we should not limit our thoughts to that great gift. In this context, “coming” and “believing” are an inward “eating” that brings forth eternal life, and so it is possible to feed on the Lord continually through “an inclination of the heart” (St. Augustine). Cleaving to Christ in every moment, we draw nourishment from the bread that comes down from heaven, Jesus Christ our Lord.

We receive the body of Christ in our hearts and, in a unique way, in the mystical society that is his body.

Look It Up: Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Think About It: Feeding upon God, we become imitators of God.


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