8th August, 2021

Dieric Bouts Prophet Elijah in the DesertDetail from Dieric Bouts’ Prophet Elijah in the Desert –
from the Winged altar in St. Peter in Leuven


XIX Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
/First Book of Kings 19: 4-8/ – /John 6: 41-51/

In the first reading from the book of Kings we heard a short passage telling us the story of the prophet Elijah. As we have heard, at some point in his life he experienced something difficult, a kind of deep depression, and we can imagine how tough and overwhelming this breakdown must have been for Elijah, since he wished himself dead and prayed to God saying: Lord, I have had enough. Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors. Perhaps this scene and this prayer reminded us of something similar, something that could have happened in our lives. Perhaps we remember our own failures, our helplessness, breakdowns, discouragements, and also all those situations when it was difficult for us to see any sense of our actions, efforts or even the tiniest light at the end of the tunnel.

And then – as we have heard in this reading – at this very dramatic stage in Elijah’s life, something incredible and very important happened, and moreover we can certainly say that it was a turning point in his story. He was awakened by an angel who unexpectedly turned up there, then gave him something to eat and drink, and – most importantly – motivated him to continue his journey to reach Horeb, the mountain of God.

Now, we can ask ourselves one very simple question: What does this particular story have to do with our lives? I think that each of us at different stages experiences something similar, various breakdowns, disappointments or situations when it is difficult to see any sense of our efforts and aspirations. There are moments, days, weeks and sometimes even months when everything goes wrong, and if something goes well no one appreciates our contribution or efforts. Or maybe at times like Elijah we too – more or less often – have the impression that we have lost everything. Lord, I have had enough! – that is also our only prayer at times. And then – maybe not always but quite often – someone completely unexpected appears in our lives. Someone who comes to us like an angel and opens our eyes to a new reality, who gives us hope and inspires us to continue our journey. I suppose it is not an angel – in the literal sense – but an ordinary person, friend, husband, wife, priest or just a random person who gives us his time, good advice or just patiently listens to our problems and struggles. This person might be anyone who tells us this one very simple sentence: Get up and eat, or the journey will be too long for you. What happened to Elijah later? He got up, ate and drank, and strengthened with this ordinary and simple food, walked for forty days and forty nights until he reached his destination, which was Horeb, the mountain of God.

This first reading can be of great help to us in deeper understanding of today’s Gospel. Just like a week ago, also today Jesus draws our attention to the Bread of life, which – as He says – is himself. I don’t know if you noticed, but this word – bread – is used and repeated in this short speech by Jesus at least five times and moreover, we will listen to a very similar speech of Jesus next Sunday as well. As if it was still not enough… As if Jesus wanted to deepen our awareness of His real presence in the Eucharist even more.

Today we also heard that the Jews were complaining to each other about Jesus because He said: I am the bread that came down from heaven. As you know also today, we meet people who doubt and complain in a very similar way or at least people who find it difficult to accept this particular truth of our faith which is the Eucharist. And that is why Jesus needs our commitment, our willingness and our activity. Each of us can be like that angel from today’s first reading who will tell others – especially those of our brothers and sisters who are lost, tired, exhausted and overwhelmed by various problems – Get up and eat, or the journey will be too long for you. Let us ask ourselves one more very fundamental question: Where am I heading to? What is my goal? What is the purpose of my journey? What is my destination? Where is my Mount Horeb? If my purpose, my main goal, my destination is much more than reaching any place here on earth – even the most beautiful place – then I will need more than just ordinary food, bread and water. I will need this extraordinary Bread of life that Jesus tells us about in today’s Gospel.

Let us ask God to help us keep in our hearts, in our minds and also before our eyes the clear purpose of our life’s journey, our Mount Horeb. May each of us be like this angel who was sent by God to help others to wake up, get up, overcome discouragement, pessimism, depression and look at life from a completely different perspective, the God’s perspective. May each of us be like this divine messenger, like an angel who comes unexpectedly, surprisingly and who provides other people with both: this ordinary daily bread, but also this Spiritual Bread of life, which is Jesus himself.

Fr Gregory