August 7, 2015

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe First Book of Kings provides this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word with its first biblical reading.

As the name implies, the kings of Israel are the central figures in these books. However, prominence is also given to prophets, such as Elijah in this weekend’s reading. He lived during the first half of the ninth-century BC.

In the reading, Elijah is weary and discouraged. He even asked God to take his life. Then, he fell asleep. When he awoke, a hearth cake and a jug of water were at his side. He ate, drank and was refreshed.

Then an angel came, revealing that this sustenance was from God, and ordered Elijah to continue his journey. Strengthened by God’s food, Elijah obeyed, finally arriving at Horeb, the mountain of God.

The second reading this weekend is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.

A context surrounds all the epistles. First, living the Gospel of Jesus was not easy in the first century. Christians faced temptations from every side.

Christians in Ephesus faced a special challenge. Not only did they live in a thriving seaport and commercial center with all the vice and distraction usually associated with such places, but Ephesus was the home of a major pagan shrine. Pilgrims to its great temple to goddess Diana thronged the city.

Christians had to be faithful to Christ amid these conditions.

Paul urges the Christians of Ephesus in this reading to rid themselves of all bitterness and anger, and to rise above gossip and malice. On the positive side, he also calls them to be compassionate and forgiving, noting that God had forgiven them.

St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. Jesus declares, “I am the bread that comes down from heaven” (Jn 6:41). His listeners do not accept these words well. They spurn Jesus. The Lord then enters upon a discourse, one of the most magnificent passages in the New Testament. He is the only access to God for humans.

Finally, the Lord says, “I am the bread of life. … I myself am the living bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:48, 51). Anyone who eats this bread attains everlasting life.

Reflection

All of us can identify with Elijah, the prophet of whom we heard in the reading from First Kings. Whatever the circumstance, life for each of us can be tiring and distressing. Any of us can be reduced to desperation, as was Elijah.

Today and always, the Church speaks with great confidence and reassurance.

First, it recalls for us, through the first reading, that God sustains us and strengthens us. He sustained and strengthened Elijah. The prophet was no dearer to God than are we.

Secondly, God has given us Jesus, his Son. Jesus is in our midst. He is in our world. He shares human nature with us. Born of Mary, a human, Jesus is as human as we.

Jesus is indeed the “bread of life.” This reading is aptly associated with the Eucharist. The food given mercifully by God is more than material food, composed of bread and wine. It is divine food, the body and blood of the Lord. It enlivens our souls.

The last element in this weekend’s lesson comes again from Elijah. Life usually brings hardships. They can assume many forms.

As disciples, we must continue our long walk to the mountain of God. More often than not, we will be traveling uphill, but we must keep our goal in sight: life with God. He will give us the strength we require. He awaits us with everlasting life and peace. †

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