Reflection on the 19th Sunday in ordinary time

by Fr Zweli Ngwenya

First reading: 1Kings 19: 4-8
Responsorial Psalm: psalm 33
Second reading: Ephesians 4: 30-5: 2
Gospel: John 6: 41-51

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In today’s first reading, Elijah literally finds himself in the wilderness. Elijah has endured a traumatic episode with the prophets of Baal. Although he successfully dispatched the prophets but still something is wrong. Elijah experiences a sense of shame and failure. It leaves him deflated, despondent and depressed. God sends unexpected help to Elijah during his time of great vulnerability. Elijah is able to overcome his great sadness through the care of the angels and the nourishment of their food. This story invites us to see how the Lord has been present to us in difficult moments. It also invites us to view our problems through a lens able to see God’s divine presence in the world. Just as God is clearly present to Elijah in order to help him overcome his travails, we must have the same confidence that God is present and will be present in our lives. We must also have the awareness that our travails and troubles are far from the whole of our story. Just as God has been present in our past, we must persevere in the hope that God will be present in our future. Such awareness and hope will only come to us if we allow ourselves to be nourished by divine food.

The gospel has to do with Jesus as the true Manna from heaven. Not only does He give this heavenly bread, He is the Bread of Life that satisfies every hunger forever. In today’s Gospel Jesus clarifies that the bread that he will give is his flesh, for the life of the world. God fed the Hebrews manna in the desert, but they all eventually died. Like anything, manna was made of elements that decompose, so the life received by eating it was material and mortal. It sustained earthly life for a short time. By contrast, the Bread of Life is not a thing, but rather a person: Jesus. And since Jesus is divine and immortal, the life we receive by eating him is divine and immortal. The Eucharist gives and sustains eternal life forever.

Brothers and sisters we do need this divine food in our lives. We are called today to know that this divine food is not magic. For this divine food to work in us we need to be properly prepared. Preparing ourselves well to receive Holy Communion with love and devotion makes a great difference to what Christ can do for us and in us. We have to make ourselves conscious of who it is, whom we are privileged to receive under the appearance of bread – Christ, our Lord and God! Another important way of preparing ourselves for Holy Communion is by regularly receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are all in need of God’s grace and mercy. Not confessing one’s sins is a sign of pride and arrogance that blocks the grace of God to be at work in us.

The second reading calls us to nothing less than a life of imitating God. Such a call may seem absurd; to think that we could imitate God might be the height of arrogance. However, this call to imitation is founded on the love of Christ for us. Jesus himself is the footsteps of God through this world, not simply giving us an example to follow by our own determination, but cutting the path for us and then pulling us along. We imitate by grace, not as those who are goaded and threatened into stepping in only the right places, but as those who are loved into walking this path.

May the bread of heaven, Jesus our Lord, continue to strengthen us on our journey.