Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
The first reading today tells us of Elijah who ran away to the desert, not to commune with nature or to get away from the crowd, but to avoid the death threat of Queen Jezebel. He was at a loss before the queen. So he asked for death. But God intervened and kept him alive with the bread brought to him by an angel. That bread changed him from a fearful person to an obedient and courageous messenger of God’s commands. He became a person with the new will to live and the enthusiasm to spread and defend the faith in God.
Our Gospel today is a continuation of St. John’s discourse on the bread of life that we heard the past two Sundays. The Jews were so incredulous. They asked: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? …. how can He say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (Jn 6:42). In another passage, Jesus says that He has come into the world that we may have life and have it to the full. St. Irenaeus said: the glory of God is man fully alive.
Biologically, life is short. It starts from conception and ends at death. Many people who get rooted in the pleasures of this life find death a frightening moment. We can understand this if we look at it just like the Israelites who found life burdensome in the desert, picking up manna everyday to survive till they reached the Promised Land. And today many are in the same situation, not only because of emphasis on temporal needs but also of spiritual poverty or aridity in faith.
Jesus is the living Bread, who came down from heaven. He was the power of the early Christians who gathered each week to break bread. Strengthened by this heavenly food, they spread the Good News of Jesus, led moral lives and suffered persecutions, and even martyrdom. With Jesus in the heart of man he can proclaim with Saint Paul, “it is no longer I that live, it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
Life is not just mere survival. Jesus wants us to be fully alive. So He is offering Himself to us. Even after feeding the crowd, there were baskets leftover. To be a follower of Jesus is to share the Bread of Life now. Just as God invited the Israelites to leave slavery in Egypt, Jesus is inviting us to a basic exodus from the selfishness and indifference growing in our hearts. To love God and to be with Him and with His people is not based on feeling, but on our faith and decision to follow His commands. As St. Paul writes in the 2nd Reading: “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice (Eph 4:31). Yes, life is too short to nurture bitterness, anger and envy. It is too short so we can be “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ” (cf. Eph 4:32).
Remember, Jesus is not a grocery or a department store. He is not an employment agency. He is not a complain box. He is God who offers us Himself and His Kingdom. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you….? So do not worry and say, What are we to eat? or…. drink?’ or What are we to wear?…. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:30-33). One problem is we think more of and do more for ourselves than we think of and pray to God. Another problem is that we seek and pray for our needs first. We seldom, if ever we do, pray first for the needs and condition of our neighbor. If selfishness and indifference reign in our hearts, we cannot and will not understand the gift of the Eucharist that leads to eternal life.
In the Eucharist we already share in the eternal life God has prepared for us even in this life: a life of humility and compassion, a life of growing in the knowledge and understanding of His commands and a life in celebration of His suffering, death and resurrection. The Eucharist brings us closer to God as it helps us gain more strength in the face of sin and the devil. But it is not an automatic effect. We have to release ourselves from our slavery to sin, from our lethargy to grow in spiritual life and from our indifference to the plight of the needy.
The Eucharist can transform us because devotion to it is to allow God to work in us and change us from our selfish and fearful selves to grateful and courageous Christians. Let us commit ourselves to grow in holiness, for this is the life that God wants us to live in order to be one with Him in His Kingdom now and through eternity.