Aug. 11, 2018

NINETEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018

THE CALL TO CONVERSION: HOW THE EUCHARIST TRANSFORMS US

Readings: 1st- 1 Kgs. 19:4-8; 2nd- Eph. 4:30-5:2; Gospel- John 6:41-51

Let’s start with looking at the reactions of Elijah in the first reading and the Jews in the gospel. Elijah is frustrated. He is disillusioned because of the series of opposition from Ahab and his wife Jezebel. The prophets of Baal are all against him. Elijah sees himself in the minority. He is fed up. He thinks that his prophecy isn’t making much difference any more. So, he cries out, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Elijah almost despises what he is called to do because of anti-theistic forces around him. In our language, everything is dumping on Elijah. 

In the gospel, the Jews are skeptical of Jesus. They murmur about his invitation to them to eat the bread that he offers. The Jews know who Jesus is. They know his biological parents, Mary and Joseph. They know his poor economic background. They know the social status of his family. Hence, it is difficult for them to believe him. They murmur. They are disgusted with him.

In the case of Elijah, the reaction from God shows how God takes care of his own. Rather than match Elijah’s frustration with equal frustration, God shows empathy to him. He sends the angel to get him some food to eat. Twice, the angel touches Elijah and orders him to eat. With the food, Elijah is able to walk forty days and forty nights, similar to the Israelites’ journey in the desert. The food from God sustain the prophet on his journey to Mount Horeb. This food from Elijah prefigures the Blessed Eucharist that Christ offers the Jews in the gospel.

In response to their murmur, Christ says to the Jews, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (Jn. 6:48-50). Jesus is the bread from heaven. He tries to explain that to the Jews; he is the One who has seen the Father because he is from God. He is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is the one who has come to give us eternal life. Yet the people murmur.

Murmuring grieves the Holy Spirit of God. Murmuring doubts the supremacy of God. Murmuring depicts a lack of understanding of the power of God in our lives. Murmuring shows lack of faith. Do we murmur? Saint Paul exposes the dangers of murmuring. He informs the Christian community to avoid: “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling.” In the preceding verse, Saint Paul already cautioned against anger when he said, “Do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27). Let’s talk about anger for a moment.

One great weapon that the devil uses to attack Christians is anger. Once you get angry, you lose your spiritual bearing. There is a venom of attack spilling continuously inside you. Once you get angry, your being changes and you respond differently. Once you get angry, you become poisonous. Once you get angry, you feel a negative push from within. That push is from the devil. The devil speaks to you at that time to do dangerous and crazy things. You hear negative voices: “revenge, destroy, attack, condemn,” etc. You hate the source of your anger. You become aggressive. You feel like squeezing someone. You practice madness in the moments. You just become different. Anger is dangerous because it gives rise to fury, shouting, reviling and bitterness. Saint Paul urges us to avoid those things in today’s reading. 

Can an angry person receive the Eucharist? My answer would be no. Being angry grieves the Holy Spirit of God. Believers should make efforts to not harbor anger in their hearts. You might get upset but always avoid being angry. What is the difference? Some people interpret the action of Jesus in John chapter 2:13-22 as being angry. The Bible says, “Making a whip out of cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, sheep and cattle as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over…” Jesus was upset and expressed his annoyance with those abusing the temple. He didn’t keep the malice afterwards. He dealt with them and forgot about it. Anger keeps malice for a long time. 

Being upset is a way of expressing hurt. You don’t keep upset in your heart, you express it. But you can keep anger in your heart. You feel terrible and let the malice linger on. Elijah was upset with God and with himself too. He was upset and frustrated with the situation, but he didn’t let anger take over him. He ate the food and continued his journey. 

Saint Paul gives us the alternative to anger; “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” Isn’t that the way God treated the prophet Elijah? Isn’t that the way to become missionary disciples for Jesus? Saint Paul says, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us” (E[ph. 5:1-2). That is what the Blessed Eucharist does for us. Christ shows us how much God loves us in the bread that came down from heaven. The Eucharist takes away all sources of anger because it is the bread from heaven. It gives us the strength to walk the far distance, to battle against the forces of anger, fear, and frustration. The Eucharist makes us to walk together for God. 

In South African, there is the philosophy or even theology known as “Ubuntu”. The word Ubuntu means “I am because we are.” “We believe that a person is a person through another person.” The story is that an anthropologist proposed a game for African children. He placed a basket of candies near a tree and made them stand about 100 meters afar. Then he announced that whoever reached first would get all the candies in the basket. Do you know what these children did? They held each other’s hands, ran together towards the tree, divided the candies equally among themselves, ate the candies. When the anthropologist asked them why they did that, they answered him, “Ubuntu.” Which meant, “How can one be happy when the others are sad?” The lesson is, “I am because we are.” That is what the Eucharist does for us. It makes us recognize one another. It makes us to walk and to run together in Christ.

God feeds us and sends us on mission. He wants us to encounter one another in a joyful way. He wants us to be joyful by what we eat. He wants us to become “Ubuntu” to one another: support, collaborate, share with, encourage, and be with one another’s strength. The Psalmist says, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Let us look to the Lord and be radiant for one another. That’s the spirit.