Sunday Sermon for August 12, 2012, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: 1Ki 19:4-8; Eph 4:30-5:2; Jn 6:41-51
In the second reading today St. Paul instructs us to live in love as Jesus loved us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God. This is an extraordinary challenge that St. Paul lays before us: to love as Jesus loves us. Of course, St. Paul is not the first to challenge us in this manner; Jesus did it first and St. John calls us to the same kind of love.
This means that while loving as we have been loved is a tall order, it is within our ability to do, otherwise the Lord would not ask it of us. To say it is within our means to accomplish it implies that we can only do so by the grace of God. By our own strength it is simply impossible to do.
The most wonderful thing about this love is that it is not something that happened 2000 years ago and now we look back and use the events of the Passion for our example. They do, indeed, provide us with the example of what we are to do, but the love and the sacrifice continue to this day, and will continue until the end of the world at Mass and in the Eucharist.
In the first reading we see an event that looks both forward and backward. Elijah, running away from the threats of Queen Jezebel, travels to the Negev, the first of three desert areas in the southern part of Israel. Having walked into the desert a few miles, he lies down under a broom tree and prays for death. Instead the Angel of the Lord awakens him and tells him to eat of the bread that has been placed at his head. Strengthened by this bread Elijah travels forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Mount Sinai.
The journey is the opposite of what the Hebrew people made as they wandered in the desert until they came into the Promised Land. It took Elijah only forty days instead of forty years to make the journey, but the years were punishment for the disobedience and rebellion of the people. Regardless, the miraculous bread in the desert is certainly reminiscent of the Exodus as well.
The event also looks forward to the Eucharist, the miraculous “Bread” which gives life and strengthens the soul for our journey to Heaven. As the Angel told Elijah, he needed to eat or he would not have the strength to make the journey. So for us, without the Eucharist we could not make it to our destination because where we are going is supernatural and, therefore, we need supernatural nourishment to make it through the desert of this world and into the Promised Land of Heaven.
In the Gospel we also see a reference to the Exodus. A couple of weeks ago we looked at how St. John placed certain words and phrases into his sixth chapter to make sure we would see the correlation between our Lord’s teaching about the Eucharist and the events of the Exodus. In today’s Gospel we hear about the people murmuring; the same word is used to describe what the people did to God in the desert. The murmured before the manna was given, then they murmured later because they were sick of “this wretched food” that was being provided miraculously every day.
Now the people murmur because Jesus tells them that He is the true bread that came down from Heaven. He goes on to say that the bread He will give is His Flesh for the life of the world. So, in the Eucharist we still have the miraculous food for our souls which our Heavenly Father provides for us daily. Unlike the manna in the desert, this bread, though freely given, comes at a cost.
The cost is the sacrifice of Jesus; the Eucharist is the fruit of that sacrifice. The sacrifice is the same as the sacrifice He made on the Cross but the manner is different. The love is the same, the intention is the same, the actual sacrifice is the same. Therefore, Jesus continues to love us and hand Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God.
This is what obtains for us the grace to be able to love in the same manner. This means that we can love in a supernatural manner, offering ourselves out of love for God and for neighbor. Even more, as we receive our Lord and are united with Him, He is able to love God and His children in us and through us. So, through the grace of the Eucharist, we can live in love as Jesus loved (and loves) us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.