Today’s Old Testament reading from the First Book of Kings continues the theme of miraculous feedings, which we have been following for the past two weeks. The prophet Elijah is having something of a hard time, combatting King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, and the priests of Baal. Elijah has reached the point of physical, mental, and spiritual exhaustion. He wants the pain to go away, even if it means the end of his life, and so he goes into the wilderness, sits despondent under a tree and says:
‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’ (I Kings 19:4)
Despite having reached rock bottom, Elijah prays to God, and God hears his prayer and answers him. The Almighty sends an angel to minister to Elijah’s needs.
‘And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.’ (I Kings 19:5-6)
Rest and nourishment are what Elijah needs, and these are provided. After resting, Elijah is fed again, to prepare him for the upcoming journey:
‘And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.’ (I Kings 19:7-8)
Elijah is travelling to Horeb, to Mt Sinai, where God gave the Commandments to Moses. God strengthens and gives sustenance to Elijah for his journey of about 250 miles. This prefigures the Eucharist, our bread for the journey, which sustains us in our life of faith.
Just like the Israelites in last week’s reading from Exodus, in today’s Gospel the Jews are grumbling. They dislike the fact that Jesus has said that He is the bread come down from Heaven. So they complain:
“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:42)
The problem is that they can only understand Jesus in human terms, they see a man, and nothing more. They cannot see beyond this. The Messiah whom they long for is in their midst and yet they fail to recognise him. But Jesus is both fully human and fully divine: True Man and True God. He is the son of Joseph and Mary, but He is also the Son of God, who took flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what we believe as Christians, and state in the words of the Nicene Creed, which we will soon say together, declaring our faith, and placing our trust in the God who loves us.
Jesus tells the people not to grumble among themselves. They do not need to be discontented, as what Christ has come to bring them is the source of the greatest contentment possible: God’s very self and the hope of Eternal Life with Him. This is the greatest Passover possible: to live the life of Heaven. This is why Jesus can promise:
‘And I will raise him up on the last day.’ (John 6:44)
Jesus has come to offer Eternal Life to those who believe in Him. This is His purpose, His mission. Christ, our saviour, will lay down His life, and die on the Cross to reconcile us to God, conquer Death, and give us the hope of Heaven. Jesus then quotes from Isaiah (54:13):
“It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’” (John 6:45)
This verse comes just before Isaiah’s hope for the future, the Messianic banquet:
‘Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’ (Isa 55:1)
Jesus’ use of Isaiah both underlines the fact that those present are being taught by God, and looks forward to the fulfilment of the prophecy in the Eucharist. He is teaching them and pointing them towards the hope of the Kingdom of God. We are here today to see that hope fulfilled, so that Christ can feed us with Himself. He states:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn 6:51)
Jesus is the living bread and if we eat Him then we will live forever. We need the Eucharist. It isn’t an occasional treat or a reward for good behaviour, it is necessary and vital, and we cannot truly live without it. The Church continues these miraculous heavenly banquets in feeding the people of Christ with Christ. This is the free gift of God, an act of radical generosity, so that we might be radical and generous in return. Jesus institutes the Eucharist on the night before He dies so that we might do this in memory of Him, so that He is ever present with us, and we are filled with His love. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is an outward and visible sign of inward spiritual grace. Christ gives us life, so that we may live in Him. As St Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians,
‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ (Eph 5:1-2)
There is something quite extraordinary and radical about this. It isn’t how most people in the world around us live. Christians are supposed to different, to live different lives in a different way, because we follow Jesus, and strive to live like Him. We operate according to different rules and standards, those of Christ, and not of the world around us.
As Christians, we have responded to the call to follow Christ, to imitate Him, and His way of life. We are instructed to practise forgiveness, whereas the world around us is often judgemental and unkind, writing people off. Thankfully that is something which God never does. Instead, He forgives, He redeems, He heals, He restores. We pray for the world to become more Christ-like, where people are loving, forgiving, and compassionate. Where the hungry are fed, where those in need are comforted, and cared for. We pray for a more selfless world where people respond to the needs of others, especially those feeling despondent and desperate. So in the strength of this heavenly food, may we live out our faith, encouraging others, so that all may sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.