The 19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:2-9
Ephesians 4:30-5:2
John 6:41-51

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Food for the Journey
God knows our needs and is attentive to fulfilling them.  However, what we think we need isn't always what He knows we need.  In the First Reading, the prophet Elijah suffered a crisis of expectation after his great victory over the false prophets of Baal.  He expected that the victory God won for him would result in the humble repentance and turning back to the one true God for the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and their king.  When national repentance failed, Elijah believed he had failed his people and he had failed God.  God responded to his prophet's grief by giving him supernatural food for his journey to a spiritual renewal in a private revelation of the divine at God's "holy mountain".

In our Second Reading, St. Paul reminds the Christians of Ephesus that God the Holy Spirit has "sealed" us "for the day of redemption" in the Sacrament of Baptism, in which the Christian dies to sin and is resurrected to new life in Christ Jesus (see Eph 1:13 and 2 Cor 1:22).  Baptized Christians can "grieve the Holy Spirit" when they do not live in the image of Christ in their new life, but instead exhibit traits of the old, sinful life.  In the Eucharist, in imitation of Christ, we surrender our lives to God, and He gives us "food for the journey" through this life so we can arrive at His "holy mountain" in Heaven.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus uses the symbolism of bread, the "staff of life" to the people of His time, to reveal that we need His flesh and blood as the literal "food" that sustains us on our journey through life (Jn 6:54).  He testifies: "I AM the bread of life" (Jn 6:35).  His teaching is that a person who possesses His life will not die the death of alienation from God. We can have confidence in what Jesus promised when He said: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven ... whoever eats this bread will live forever Jn 6:51)!"  The "living bread" is Christ's gift to us in the Eucharist.  When we come forward to receive Christ in the Eucharist, we offer Him our lives.  Then He touches us, like the angel of God touched Elijah, and commands us to "taste and see the goodness of the Lord" (Psalm response)—to take and eat His flesh, given for the life of the world (Mt 26:26).   The gift of this supernatural bread comes with the command in the closing words of the Mass to arise and continue on the journey we began in the Sacrament of Baptism—"to love and serve the Lord..."  Like Elijah, we must continue in our mission until we receive our own private revelation of God in the heavenly Kingdom.

The First Reading 1 Kings 19:4-8 ~ Supernatural Food
4 Elijah went a day's journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it.  He prayed for death, saying: "This is enough, O LORD!  Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers."  5 He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat.  6 Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water.  After he ate and drank, he lay down again, 7 but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, "Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!"  8 He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

In the failure of Israel to repent after his victory at Mt. Carmel, the ninth century BC prophet Elijah did not experience a crisis of faith but a crisis of expectation.  He expected that his great victory over the false prophets of the Canaanite and Phoenician god Baal would result in the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom and their king repenting their sins of idol worship and apostasy from God's holy covenant.  He expected that they would turn back to Yahweh, destroying their pagan altars and driving out the false prophets.  When this did not happen, Elijah felt his entire mission to call the Northern Kingdom of Israel to repentance had been a failure.  Overcome with grief, he believed he had failed the people and he had failed his God.  But Elijah had not failed.  He had completed the mission God gave him.  It was the people of the Northern Kingdom and their king who had failed. 

The life of a prophet was difficult; it was full of rejection by the prophet's own people because of his unpopular message, and it was filled with loneliness.  After the failure of the people to repent, Elijah went into the desert, and sitting under the shade of a broom tree, confessed to God what he considered his failure and his people's failure.  Elijah was despondent for two reasons:  he was despondent because of the failure of his mission and for the future that he knew awaited the unrepentant Israelites which, according to the prophecy of Ahijah the prophet, will be loss of the Promised Land, suffering, and exile (see 1 Kng 14:15-16).  In the same way that God called the Old Covenant people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to repentance and reconciliation through His prophet, God calls His New Covenant people to repentance and restored fellowship through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In verse 4 Elijah asked God to take his life because of his failure, since, in his depression, he saw no point in going on.  He cried out that he was no better than his ancestors, referring to the Israelites who constantly complained and rebelled against God's divine plan in the Biblical period of the Exodus liberation and the wilderness years (Ex 19:6; Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; Num 15:40; Dt 7:6; 14:2, 21b; 26:19; 28:9).  The first generation of Israelites of the Exodus failed in their mission to be a "holy people" (e.g., Ex 19:6; Lev 11:44-45).  The first failure was in the worship of the image of the Golden Calf, the same failure of idol worship repeated by the people of the Northern Kingdom. 

5 ... but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat.  6 Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. 7 but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, "Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!"  8 He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.
Yahweh came to the aid of His faithful prophet, supernaturally providing bread and water.  The angel of God explained to Elijah that he will need nourishment for the journey to God's holy mountain.  God already knew it was Elijah's intention to go to the mountain of God at Horeb.  Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai, was where God first revealed Himself to the Israelites, and where He called them into covenant with Him out of the Gentile nations as a corporate covenant people who pledged to be a holy people obedient to His Law (Ex 24:7-8).  It is also where God gave Moses a private revelation of Himself when a distressed Moses asked Yahweh to "Please show me your glory" after the people's sin of worshipping the idol of the Golden Calf (Ex 33:18). 

When Moses requested a revelation of Yahweh's glory, God told Moses "my face...you cannot see, for no human being can see me and survive".   Therefore, God put Moses in a cave and shielded Moses until He passed by.  God did the same for Elijah (Ex 33:19-23; 1 Kng 19:9-18).  The miraculous feeding and the revelation of God gave Elijah the courage to continue his mission.  God cares for us in the same way.  He gives us the supernatural "bread of Life" that is Christ (Jn 6:48) for our journey through this earthly life.  The Eucharistic bread and wine that becomes our spiritual nourishment and the revelation of Christ in the Eucharist gives us the strength to face a hostile world, as we continue our mission to share the Gospel of salvation on our faith journey to the "mountain of God" in the heavenly kingdom where we will have the privilege of seeing God face to face.

Responsorial Psalm 34:2-9 ~ There is Refuge in the LORD
Response: "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."
 
2 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth.  3 Let my soul glory in the LORD; the lowly will hear me and be glad.
Response:
4 Glorify the LORD with me, let us together extol his name.  5 I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Response:
6 Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame.  7 When the afflicted man called out, the LORD heard, and from all his distress he saved him.
Response:
8 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.  9 Taste and see how good the LORD is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34 is identified as a Psalm of David (verse 1).  The psalmist begins to praise God, and he invites the afflicted to unite themselves to God (verses 2-4, 6).  The other verses give his reasons why the Lord should be praised.  The psalmist has experienced the power of the Lord in his own life in the midst of distress, and he bears witness to the Lord's faithfulness, deliverance, and protection.  He invites his listeners to "taste", meaning to experience, God's goodness for themselves by appealing to God's mercy and taking refuge in Him.

The Second Reading Ephesians 4:30-5:2 ~ Be Imitators of God
Brothers and sisters: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.  31 All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.  32 And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.  5:1 So be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

It is God the Holy Spirit who has "sealed" us "for the day of redemption" in the Sacrament of Baptism in which the Christian dies to sin and is resurrected to new life in Christ Jesus (see Eph 1:13 and 2 Cor 1:22).  Baptized Christians can "grieve the Holy Spirit" when they do not live in the image of Christ in their new life, but instead exhibit traits of the old, sinful life.  Those traits of the old life are listed by St. Paul in verse 31, as he also lists the traits of living in imitation of Christ is verse 32.  We become imitators of God (5:1) in forgiving and in loving as Christ loved us in giving up His life on the altar of the Cross so that those who belong to Him might live eternally in His presence.  It is a sacrifice of love that He also asks of us when, in the Eucharistic procession, we come forward to offer up our lives as a sacrifice to Him and to receive His life, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. 

The "fragrant aroma" in verse 5:2 recalls how the Old Testament represents sacrifices as "food" or a "pleasing aroma" for Yahweh (Gen 8:21; Ex 29:18; Lev 1:9; Num 28:2), but it was understood that an omnificent God was not in need of earthly nourishment or the pleasing smell of sacrifices (Ps 50:12-14; Sir 35:6-7/5-9).  It was the "spiritual food" of the self-surrender of the covenant people that pleased God: For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.  The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise (Ps 51:16-17 RSV; also see 1 Sam 15:22-23). It was God's plan that the quality of the sacrifice must be united to the righteousness of the offerer in order for sins to be forgiven and for fellowship between the offerer and God to be restored.

In the Old Covenant of Sinai, as in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, God deserves the sacrifice of personal surrender and not the empty ritual of the mere material gift of the offerer.  A sacrifice offered without prayer and without the contrition of a truly repentant heart is like a body offered without a soul; it is an empty and lifeless gift not worthy of a holy God.  In the sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist, we surrender our lives to Christ, and God gives us the life of God the Son to nourish us spiritually on our journey to God's holy mountain in Heaven.

The Gospel of John 6:41-51 ~ Jesus, the Living Bread
41 The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven," 42 and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?  Do we not know his father and mother?  Then how can he say 'I have come down from heaven?'"  43 Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves.  44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.  45 It is written in the prophets: 'They shall all be taught by God.'  Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.  46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.  47 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  48 I am the bread of life.  49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.  51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

Our passage is from the beginning of Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6:22-65) that is the promise of the reality of Christ in the Eucharist.  It is the day after Jesus miraculously fed the more than 5 thousand, and the crowd has finally found Him again coming out of the Synagogue at Capernaum.  They want Him to make another miracle, and since His feeding miracle the day before reminded them of the miracle of the manna in the time of Moses, they ask Jesus to make the same miracle again and to bring down bread from heaven like Moses.  Jesus responds by correcting them and saying that it was not Moses who made the miracle but God.  Then, He tells them that He is the true bread that came down from Heaven and that He has the power to give eternal life (Jn 6:22-40).  The crowd reacts negatively because they know of Jesus' earthly origins.  They know His family, and what Jesus is telling the crowd disturbs them—especially the statement "I am the bread that has come down from heaven" that Jesus' declaration of His divine origin.

43 Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves.  44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.  45 It is written in the prophets: 'They shall all be taught by God.'  Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.  46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.  47 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
In their murmuring they are behaving just like their ancestors behaved in the desert during the Exodus liberation by complaining and limiting what they believe God can do on their behalf (see Ex 16:2, 17:2-3; Num 11:1; 14:27; and 1 Cor 10:10).  

Jesus is continuing to claim His divinity when He quotes Isaiah 54:13, where the prophet describes the promised "new Jerusalem" in the Messianic Era: All your children will be taught by Yahweh and great will be your children's prosperity (Is 54:13 NJB)In verse 14 Isaiah's prophecy continues: In saving justice you will be made free from oppression....  This passage continues in chapter 55:1 with Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty –the promise of the Sacrament of Baptism and Jesus' declaration in John 7:37, and Isaiah 55:2 promies: Listen carefully to me, (repeated in John 6:45) and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy.  Pay attention, come to me; listen and you will live" = the promise of the Sacrament of Eucharist (see Jn 6:42, 48) and the promise of eternal life (see Jn 6:44 & 47).

48 I am the bread of life.  49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.  51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
This is the second statement Jesus makes identifying Himself as the "Bread of Life" (see verse 35).  The giving of Christ's flesh in sacrifice for the life of the world connects the Incarnation, "the Word made flesh" (Jn 1:14) and the Eucharist.  The identification of John 6:51 as a true Eucharistic formula has been recognized since the earliest years of the Church.  Both the Old Latin and the Syriac liturgies contain this verse: This bread that I will give is my body for the life of the world (Navarre Commentary, page 105).  

Notice the future tense in verse 51: the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.  This future tense points to Jesus' sacrifice on the altar of the Cross and to the miracle of the Eucharist where Jesus' sacrifice becomes present for every generation, beginning at the Last Supper.  Jesus is the true bread not only because He is God's Word but also because He is the spotless victim whose flesh and blood is offered in sacrifice for the life of the world, as announced by St. John the Baptist: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).  Ever since man's fall from grace, sacrifices were offered for sin.  The animal offered in sacrifice died in place of the sinner as a substitute sacrifice:

Jesus promises a new sacred covenant meal that is His very flesh and blood.  The idea of a mystical, sacred meal was not foreign to believers of the Old Covenant.  In the Temple in Jerusalem, the blood of the sacrificed animal was poured out on the altar and then the animal was skinned and either all its body or only the fat was burnt on the altar.  But, with the exception of the individual or festival whole burnt offerings and the Tamid daily communal sacrifice in the twice daily worship service, the sin sacrifices were eaten by the priests or on the occasion of the festival sacred meals like the Passover victim or the Todah, "thanksgiving" communion offering, the sacrifice was eaten by the people in a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. 

In the Old Covenant the sprinkling of the blood in the altar was a figure of justification, and the burning of the flesh of the animal was a figure of sanctification.  Therefore, the eating of the sacrifice was a symbol of redeemed man in a mystical union with Yahweh.  All of the Old Covenant sacrificial system prefigured Christ's sacrifice and the sanctification and redemption of man.  Pope Benedict XVI (the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), in his book, Feast of Faith, especially sees the connection between the sacred meal offered by Christ of Himself in the holy Eucharist and the communion Todah (means "thanksgiving" in Hebrew and expressed as "eucharistia" in the Greek) of the Old Covenant sacrificial system.  In the Todah communion offering, a man or woman, who had experienced some form of providential deliverance, offered Yahweh a sacrifice in "thanksgiving" and ate it in a sacred meal within the Temple in the Holy Place along with his family and other members of the covenant family.  The Todah offering was not restricted to a bloody sacrifice of flesh but also the unbloody offering of unleavened bread and wine that was consumed with the sacred meal in the presence of God.  Pope Benedict XVI wrote that the New Covenant Lord's Supper becomes the Todah of Christ.  He also points out that it was part of Rabbinic tradition that when the Messiah came all sacrifices would end with the exception of the Todah: The Todah of Jesus vindicates the rabbinic dictum: 'In the coming (Messianic) time, all sacrifices will cease except the Toda Sacrifice.  This will never cease in all eternity.  All (religious) song will cease too, but the songs of Toda will never cease in all eternity' (Feast of Faith page 58; also see Levine, JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus, page 43). 

All animal sacrifice ended the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70.  But the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, offered up on the altar of the Cross once and for all time, is present in the New Covenant Todah—"thanksgiving" sacred meal of the Eucharist, that is a continually represented as an unbloody sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of sin and the sanctification of the covenant people in a sacred meal on the altars of every Catholic Church.  But for that sacrifice to be effective and celebrated, the Lamb of God must still be eaten, not just by the priests but by all of us because we have all been called by our High Priest, Jesus Christ, into a royal priesthood of believers: But you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession.... (1 Pt 2:9; also see 1 Pt 2:5; Rev 1:6; 5:1-10, and CCC#1546).  We must still eat the sacrifice, as He told us at the Last Supper when He commanded us to "do this" (Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25), in order to take part in Jesus' promise of eternal life: ... whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world (Jn 6:51).  In our New Covenant Todah of the Eucharist, Jesus gives us food for our journey so that we can reach our goal of eternity on God's holy mountain in the heavenly kingdom that He has promised us.

Catechism References:
1 Kings 19:4-8 (CCC 2853); 19:5 (CCC332)
Psalm 34:3 (CCC 716); 34:8 (CCC 336)
Ephesians 4:30 ()CCC 698, 1274, 1296); 4:32 (CCC 2842); 5:1 (CCC 1694); 5:2 (CCC 616)
John 6 (CCC 1338); 6:44 (CCC 259, 591, 1001, 1428); 6:46 (CCC 151); 6:51 (CCC 728, 1355, 1406)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015