August 12, Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Cycle B. Readings:
1) 1 Kings 19:4-8
2) Ephesians 4:30-5:2
Gospel) John 6:41-51
Summer is often the time for taking long road trips, and with the right attitude, jovial company, and good provisions, the journey can be just as enjoyable as the destination.
Depending on the route, drive-thru restaurants and gas station markets suffice very well for the occasional meal; our family also likes stocking up beforehand on our favorite road trip snacks. Fruits and veggies are heavily supplemented by Fig Newtons, Starburst candies, and cheese puffs -- things we don’t usually keep in the house but which have been specially designated for road trip fare.
Today’s readings are about a different kind of food for a different kind of journey. The prophet Elijah, fleeing the vengeful wrath of corrupt Queen Jezebel, is so exhausted and filled with despair that he prays for death. His journey would be over but for a heaven-sent meal of a hearth cake and a jug of water, served with angelic words of encouragement.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus plainly identifies himself with the “bread of life.” Unlike the manna which had been given to their Israelite ancestors, the bread that is Jesus’ flesh brings eternal life to the one who believes and partakes of it. It’s a hard saying, to be sure: How can anyone give us his flesh to eat?
But this specially-designated food, which we know as the Eucharist, is the food that equips us for our journey as servants of Christ and one another. Without it, we can easily succumb to fatigue and discouragement. With it, we are able to arise refreshed, and continue traveling on the way.
Christians believe that our journeys don’t stop with the end of our natural lives. The final gift of the Eucharist, administered during the last rites of the church, is called viaticum -- a Latin word that literally means “provisions for a journey.” It is Jesus himself, the companion who has shared our journey all along, who accompanies us into eternal life.
Whether through meal stops or pre-planned snacks, we typically take great care to satisfy our hunger when we’re traveling. Do we take equal care to nourish ourselves frequently on Jesus, the Bread of Life? As today’s psalm invites, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” With him sustaining us, the journey can be as rewarding as the destination.
What has been your experience of exhaustion, discouragement or despair on your life’s journey? How can the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist sustain and refresh you to continue with renewed hope and enthusiasm?