August 12, 2018

19th Sunday – B


There is a retreat house near Yankton, South Dakota known as Broom Tree.  Broom Tree was originally a Protestant retreat house, but the diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota bought it and remodeled it so that it could function as a Catholic retreat house.  People who have been to Broom Tree say it is a great place for spiritual renewal and we should have something like it in the Bismarck diocese.  Spiritual renewal and spiritual nourishment is a theme in the liturgy for this Sunday.  We continue to hear from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, which started by describing how Jesus gave physical nourishment to a crowd of 5000 with five barley loaves and two fish.  Last Sunday we began to hear about the spiritual nourishment that Jesus came to give us.  Today we continue what some people call the Bread of Life discourse.  Jesus claims to be the living bread that came down from heaven.  Today’s readings remind us first of all, that we need spiritual nourishment as we go through life; secondly, God gives us spiritual nourishment, especially through Jesus; lastly, through faith in Jesus we can receive the spiritual food we need to enable us to carry out the mission that God has given us.


Our first reading today from the First Book of Kings describes the first “broom tree” retreat center, namely, a broom tree in the desert of the southern kingdom of Judah.  When the prophet Elijah gets to this broom tree, he is discouraged and ready to give up the mission given to him.  Elijah was fleeing from the northern kingdom of Israel, where the queen Jezebel had threatened to kill him. He prayed for death, saying: “This is enough, O Lord, for I am no better than my fathers.”  He fell asleep, but an angel woke him up and told him to eat and drink.  There was a hearth cake and a jug of water there—food from heaven.  Elijah was told to eat and drink a second time, and he now had the strength to walk forty days and nights to the mountain of God. Horeb.  Mount Horeb seems to be the same mountain as Mount Sinai, where Moses had received the Ten Commandments and other laws from God.  Elijah had an encounter with the Lord on Mount Horeb and was given the strength to go back to the norther kingdom of Israel and carry out his mission as a prophet.  As human beings, we need help from God to carry out the mission given to us.  There was a politician in Georgia in the 1960’s by the name of Jimmy Carter who had run for governor and had lost.  Jimmy Carter was discouraged and ready to give up politics, but, with the help of his sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, he had a conversion experience and became a committed Christian.  He ran for governor of Georgia again, and this time he won.  Later he was elected President of the United States and continue to serve others when he left political office.  We may realize that we need spiritual food, help from God, but where should we turn?  Jesus tells us he is the living bread come down from heaven.


Jesus tells us that us that he is the bread that came down from heaven.  He is not like the manna that the Israelites found in the desert.  The Israelites thought that the manna came down from heaven, but it was an earthly food produced by trees and shrubs in the desert.  Those who ate the manna eventually died.  Those who eat the food that Jesus gives will live forever.  This heavenly food that Jesus gives can be understood in different ways.  One aspect of Jesus as the bread that came down from heaven is his teaching.  Rabbis at the time of Jesus sometimes referred to their teaching as the bread they gave to their listeners.  But there was something different about the teaching of Jesus.  Jesus has a divine nature as the Son of God, as well has a human nature.  Thus, his teaching is more complete and has greater authority than the teaching of others.  His teaching is greater than that of Moses and the prophets.  Moses and the prophets fed the people spiritually, but the teaching of Jesus is greater.  Also, Jesus feeds us in other ways.  There is a reference to the Eucharist at the end of today’s passage, and we will hear more about that next Sunday.  Jesus feeds us in the Eucharist and in other sacraments.  As the second reading today from the Letter to the Ephesians reminds us, Jesus also gives us the Holy Spirit.  Through Baptism we share in the life of the Trinity.  We receive divine grace, and that grace can grow as we go through life.  The Christian writer C. S. Lewis once attended a conference on world religions, and when he walked into a room he was asked to state what made Christianity different from other religions.  C. S. Lewis replied: “Grace!”  Through Jesus we receive divine grace in a special way and this can help us carry out the mission that God has given us.


Even though Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven, we need to have faith in him to benefit from this spiritual food.  In today’s Gospel passage we find that many of the Jewish people who listened to Jesus did not have faith in him.  Jesus seemed rather ordinary to him.  He grew up in Nazareth and was known as the son of Joseph.  Many people knew Joseph and Mary and the relatives of Jesus.  How could someone like this be someone who came down from heaven?  Through faith we realize that Jesus is the Son of God and that he can feed us in different ways.  We have to be drawn by God to realize that Jesus can give us the spiritual food that leads to eternal life.   As the Letter to the Ephesians tells us, we are called to be imitators of God and to live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a sacrificial offering.  In the lives of the saints we can see how the grace of God can enable us to accomplish great things.  On Tuesday of this week we honor St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave up his life for another prisoner in a concentration camp so that the other prisoner could someday return to his family.


So, today we are to be thankful that Jesus came down from heaven to be the bread of life.  Let us be thankful for the various ways in which Jesus feed us, in his teaching and in the sacraments, in his personal presence and through the example of others.  Let us pray the spiritual food that Jesus gives us will help us to do God’s will each day and someday be found worthy to be in God’s kingdom forever.