Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary
“The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up and ate and drank then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights.” (1 Kings19:4)
Elijah had been through many vicissitudes of life and was totally worn out. He begged God to let him die, saying, “It is enough; now O Lord, take away my life.” (1 Kings 19:4) Is it possible that even God's prophet would ask for death? Can someone with such strong faith be so near despair? Did he not believe that God was an almighty Lord who could save him from all misfortune? Is there a time when even a thoroughbred horse can run no longer?
Shortly before this time Elijah had gained a magnificent victory over the prophets of Baal. He had called upon God to send down fire to consume the sacrificial bull. God answered his prayer and also his prayer to send rain to nourish the earth after a devastating drought of three years. He also had put to the sword all 450 prophets of Baal. Nevertheless he cried out, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord.” (1 Kings 18:22)
He had tasted the joy of success and had the rich experience of communing directly with God. Before all the people, he had raised his hands in prayer and obtained God's promises. Though surely he had given glory to God, who could deny that some glory also resounded to him as one of God's chosen ones?
But none of this helped him avoid the wrath of Queen Jezebel who worshipped
Baal and sought to kill him. He thought he would become a fugitive for
life. He came near to despair and so he asked God to allow him to die.
Even such a broad-minded person as Confucius had this experience of helplessness. He said, “only at fifty do I understand the limitations of life.” (2) Having lived a life of hardship, he thoroughly understood how true it is that “we cannot hold on to our ability to the end of our life, and neither can we hold on to our strength.” Confucius understood too that there are many limitations in life. Our lives and activities, the space in which we move, all have their limitations. This is ‘fate’ and fate by its very essence limits life.
Haven't we sometimes seen psychologists who have saved many people from committing suicide, eventually committing suicide themselves? At times we may have seen famous people in society who behind the public adulation and glamour, have broken families, incompatible marriages, uncontrollable delinquent children. Perhaps we have experienced how difficult it is to walk even one step when we are seriously ill. Or when in great pain, for example from an abscessed tooth, wish we could die to avoid further discomfort. If even prophets, ‘God's chosen ones,’ can desire death, how about ourselves? When we feel we have reached the limit of our endurance so that we are weary of life itself, what does it all matter?
But with God, there is always hope of change. This is what is meant by “where hills and streams come to a dead end and no pathway seems to lie ahead, past dark willows and blooming flowers lies another village.” (Lu You, ‘A Visit to a Village West of the Mountain)(3)
“Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you…” Death is not the solution to your problems. So ‘You must eat!’ Eat what? You must eat the food God gives you. Relying on that food, Elijah was able to walk forty days and forty nights!
“I am the bread of life”, Jesus said. “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, but they died. They could not go very far. But “this is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” (Jn 6: 48-50).
What is this bread? “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”(Jn 6:51) This is the food that will help us travel along life’s journey, through all of life's struggles, all our tribulations, unto the very end.
All of us are created by God, each of us and all men and women are like thoroughbred horses, for the all-good and almighty God does not create useless creatures! We can walk, we can run, even a thousand miles. But without sufficient food, how can we run that far? It is as Han Yu said, “Even if a horse has the ability to run a thousand miles a day, without sufficient food it would not have enough energy. Its ability and beauty cannot be seen from the outside, let alone can we expect it to run a thousand miles!”(4)
Why do we not more often eat of this ‘Bread of Life’ so we can walk ‘the thousand miles’, and in one breath ‘walk for forty days and forty nights,’ until we reach the eternal shore?