1 Kgs 19:4-8
Every third year, we have an intermission in the reading of the Gospel of Mark that provides a sort of Eucharistic retreat. On these summer Sundays the readings can serve as an invitation to come, be nourished and renewed. This is the message of the brief reading from Elijah. In the Gospels we do not need to decipher the complexity of John or to come up with the definitive word about Jesus, the Bread of Life. On retreat it is enough to be open and listen to where the Spirit wants to lead us.
On the first of the five weeks of intermission, I found myself thinking of a banquet. The people want to make Jesus a king. They certainly are not thinking that when Jesus is named king it will be on the Cross. What kind of banquet will be required to celebrate the true meaning of such kingship? Last week it was evident that those who approach it need trust like that of the Israelites in the desert. Each night the people who shared the manna had to trust that when they woke next morning food would be provided. We trust in Jesus as the Sign leading us to the fulfillment of our deepest desires, our attainment of joy and of all that God wants us to have. We trust that Jesus leads us to the Father.
Today, Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, unbeatable despite crazy odds, is about to concede defeat! He has had it! “Take my life,” he says to God. But God does not want to lose his prophet. The best is yet to come. He feeds him twice and sends him on one of the forty-day journeys that we hear of often in the Scriptures. Is it perhaps more symbolic than literal, a time for spiritual reflection, a retreat? God nourishes Elijah, brings him back to life, and renews his energy.
What does John tell us about being nourished and renewed? Jesus says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Those who murmur say that Jesus is just the son of Joseph. Jesus explains that the Father is at work drawing us to himself through Jesus. Our Lord knows the Father and will bring us to everlasting life. The manna was God’s gift of life in the desert, but now a new nourishment makes us one with the Father. It is a bread from heaven—Jesus—who will give his flesh for the life of the world. Jesus is the bread of life.
If theology ends in poetry, the 18th century hymn, “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree,” leads us to sit under the Apple Tree and relax with Jesus who enlivens and nourishes us.
The tree of life, my soul hath seen, laden with fruit and always green.
The trees of nature, fruitless be, compar’d with Christ the apple tree.
This beauty doth all things excel, by faith I know but cannot tell
The glory which I now can see, in Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought, and pleasure deeply I have bought;
I miss’d for all, but now I see ‘tis found in Jesus Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil, Here I shall sit and rest awhile;
Under the shadow I will be, of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
With great delight I’ll make my stay. There’s none shall fright my soul away;
Among the sons of men I see, there’s none like Christ the apple tree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive, it keeps my dying faith alive:
Which makes my soul in haste to be with Jesus Christ the apple tree.
- Fr. Bill Murphy, C.P.