19th Sunday B

From the First book of Kings we learn that Elijah was the great prophet when the nation was settling in the promised land.  He had performed dramatic miracles and successfully confronted the prophets of the pagan queen Jezebel.  Our reading (19:4-8) tells of his journey into the desert, to flee the wrath of Jezebel who had put a wanted notice out for his death; he is hoping to die alone naturally and settles down exhausted under a desert bush; but he is woken twice by an angel who gives him food  to carry on to the mountain of God, which eventually he does.  It is a story that was passed down through the generations partly because of its deeper meaning about the spiritual journey of life, with failings and then support from God and the need to press on all the same.  This is a message that the hearers  and readers of John’s gospel must learn as well, for all humans are on such a journey to find and face God;  It is an adventure which often becomes more difficult as we progress in doing what God wants of us.  But what do we expect to find?  Moses was led to the Mountain where He encountered God in a still small voice rather than in the expected noisy whirlwind, earthquake or dramatic fire often associated with the divine.

The second reading is from Ephesians (4:30 – 5:2) after last week’s second reading.  Here the writer is trying to explain the consequences of the truths that he has expounded earlier, and trying to urge the churches that Paul had set up, to keep their faith alive.  In these final chapters of Ephesians there are practical instructions on how Christians should live in the light of what they believe about Christ and His life; details are given of what not to do and of what should be their way of life; they should try to live as Jesus did, for he gave his very life for others – for them.  They are reminded of this central message of course in their celebration of the Lord’s supper when they receive Him anew in their meal – a fact referred to at the end of the gospel reading as a springboard into next week’s gospel topic! – “the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”

The Gospel is taken from John 6:41-51.  We have over the previous two weeks read from this chapter about the miraculous feeding of the multitude, and the way the crowd were excited about the miracle but missed the deeper significance of it – a reading ending with the misunderstanding of the new bread from heaven and with the provocative claim by Jesus to be the true bread from heaven.  In this day’s gospel reading we have for the first time in this chapter the people present are referred to as ‘the Jews’ rather that just the crowd.  The author has in mind the Jerusalem officials in their religion who are naturally suspicious of Jesus and His challenging words and actions.  The dialogue here has its deeper meaning about faith and the truth that Jesus expounds; and this is elaborated partly under the surface of a discussion about bread and life – even eternal life – for the word ‘bread’ was used by Jewish teachers as a word for the important truths of their religion and their recommended way of life, it is a little like the way we sometimes use the word ‘meat’ to mean some information that is very deep and important (we are more familiar with calling Jesus the Way – the way we should live for the purpose of God).  This section connects to last week’s with the topic of the manna in the desert, but we are led to think also of the simple way God communicates with people in the incident of the first reading (see above).

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