Home » Gospel Encouragement – 8th August 2021 – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Encouragement – 8th August 2021 – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear sisters and brothers,

I love this week’s first reading.  It’s part of the story of the great prophet, Elijah.  He’s an amazing character, but, at the same time, still so completely human.  Alongside Abraham, Moses and David he is probably one of the key characters of the Old Testament, and yet, like them all, he gets things wrong.  Today’s reading is during one of those times.

So, what’s been going on.  To set the context, this account takes place in the northern kingdom of Israel, after north and south divided at the end of Solomon’s reign.  We’re a few kings after Solomon here, probably early in the eighth century BC.  The king is Ahab, probably the worst king that Israel ever had, largely because his wife, Jezebel, was such a conniving and manipulative character.  She was a princess of Phoenicia, just to the north of Israel, and brought the worship of ‘all’ the Phoenician gods with her, and Ahab went along with it.  Just prior to today’s reading, Elijah had challenged and won a competition with the 500 priests that Jezebel had brought with her.  They had failed to get their gods to start an instantaneous fire to offer sacrifice after hours of prayer and chanting, where the Lord responded to Elijah’s prayer at the first attempt.  He showed the foreign gods up for what they were – false gods – and, claiming retribution, had them all killed.  However, he then realised that he had now put himself in a difficult place.  Jezebel and Ahab would want retribution themselves, and so Elijah goes on the run.

Today’s first reading begins with him revealing his humanity most fully.  He is so exhausted, hungry and terrified that he wishes that he was dead, but God helps him in his hour of need.  When Elijah awakes from sleep, the angel of the Lord appears twice before him, encouraging him to eat a scone and drink from a jar of water, both of which have miraculously appeared.   The angel tells him that these are meant to sustain him for a very long journey.  That journey takes him 40 days and 40 nights on foot, strengthened by just a scone and some water.  I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t walk for one day and one night on such a small amount.  This tells us something about both Elijah and the scone.  Elijah must have been a man who was used to fasting, and so had become accustomed to surviving on very little.  But the scone and water must have been miraculous in their own right, both being precursors to the Eucharist that the Gospels are helping us to reflect on over these weeks.  Like the Eucharist, the scone and water strengthened Elijah for the spiritual battles that he had to face and prepared him for the personal encounter that he would have with God on Mount Horeb, the same mountain on which Moses met God face to face some 500 or 600 years earlier.

As the scone and water blessed Elijah, so even more abundantly the Eucharist blesses us every time that we receive it.  Yes, we can learn important lessons from Elijah’s fasting, but we can learn even more important lessons about our privileged reception of Jesus’ miraculous Body and Blood given to each of us freely, as a personal gift by God.  As the scone strengthened Elijah for the spiritual battles that he faced, so the Eucharist strengthens us to face our own.  Many of us know people like Jezebel and Ahab who will seek to undermine us in our faith, and Jesus gives us the Eucharist to strengthen our faith in the face of such opposition.  It’s also true that the devil wants to undermine our faith in subtle ways, through TV, radio and films, through newspapers and the media, and even through the education that we receive.  God gives us the Eucharist to strengthen us for these spiritual battles, to help us grow in wisdom and discernment.

But he also gives us the Eucharist to help us become one with him, more and more each day, not just preparing us for a personal encounter with God, as he did with Elijah, but as the personal encounter.  When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist – Jesus, the bread of life – he becomes physically one with us and we become physically one with him.  It is a profound union of God and man, even more profound than the union of husband and wife.  Jesus chooses to make the messiness of the insides of our bodies his dwelling.  We become a walking tabernacle.  The silence after Holy Communion – which literally means union with he who is holy and who makes us holy – is a time for us to become fully consciously aware of the great gift of himself that Jesus gives us that we might become more and more like him.  One with him, strengthened by him, enabled by him to – as St Paul writes today – imitate him more and more each day, empowered by him to lay down our lives for our sisters and brothers, to die to our personal wants as we choose to put others first.  This is “having life to the full” (John 10: 10), as Jesus exhorts us to, this is living eternal life here and now!

So, let us pray for ourselves today, that day by day we grow in ever greater appreciation of the wonder of the Eucharist that Jesus gives to us as his greatest gift, to strengthen us, to become one with us and to enable us to live life to the full.

With every blessing,

Simon