Bread from Heaven for the Journey of Life

Every Sunday, during the celebration of the Eucharist, we recite the Nicene Creed. It is the affirmation of our faith. We proclaim that “we believe in Jesus Christ… true God from true God… (who) became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man…” Jesus is truly the presence of the living God, made human for us, who enter our history to be history with us, to accompany us and strengthen us in the journey of life… into life everlasting.

We do not believe that in Jesus, God was just “using” a human body and faking human existence, including suffering and death. No. It is clear for us that in Jesus, God became human being, so that the human being, in Jesus, can find the divine within him/her, in history and in creation. As Leonardo Boff is fond of saying, “in Jesus we have the meeting of two loves: God loving the human being and the human being loving God!” And, the communion between them is one of love, so much so that they become one without losing their individuality, their particularity. It is a communion, not an assimilation. We believe too that this communion is ongoing and will only be complete in the full realization of the kingdom of God, as it became complete in Jesus with the resurrection. However, for us, it is ongoing – a journey into the fullness of life. This is our intentionality. This is our longing, the fire that never quenches, the fire that keeps us journeying each day.

It seems that for the Jews of Jesus’ time this was not something fully understood. For them, the obedience of the Law was the important thing: you obeyed the (interpretation of the) Law, given to you by the rabbis, the doctors of the Law and the priests of the Temple and, as a consequence of your scrupulous obedience, you would be blessed by God – blessed with good health, many (preferably male) children and material wealth. The intentionality of the Law was the blessings of God given to you and, therefore, the good life that you would enjoy as a faithful member of the people of God. As for the poor and the sick (especially lepers!), obviously they were not being blessed by God which meant that, sometime and somewhere, they must have disobeyed God, they must have sinned against God and God’s holy Law. And, if not them, then, their parents or

 grandparents… they were to be considered the cursed ones, the outcast and were to be looked down upon, segregated, forgotten…

Obviously, this is not the way of Jesus. This is not what he believes. For Jesus, the intentionality of the Law id not so much that we may be blessed by God, but rather that we may not loose the meaning of our existence, that we may not loose our own intentionality – to be for and with God. For this reason, we must always return to the basics, return to our sources, to our essence, as “come down from heaven”.

In the first lesson for this Sunday, taken from the First of Kings 19:4-8, we see the prophet Elijah running for his life. He has entered the wilderness and, after a day’s journey, he is tired, exhausted and begins to ask God that he might die. Elijah wants to die! “While he was day’s journey into the wilderness, he came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. I have had enough, Lord, he said. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (v.4). What happened? Our text is an abbreviated form of “the running of Elijah” (1Kings 19:1-8). We know that Elijah lived during the time of Ahab, king of Israel (874-853 BC), who was married to the Phoenician queen Jezebel. The queen wanted to “syncretize” her beliefs with those of Israel, since she believed in the Canaanite-Phoenician god Baal. Elijah would have none of it and chastised Ahab for letting himself be influenced by his wife and leading the people of God into idolatry. According to Elijah, the God of Israel is the only one and true God and there is no other God. As simple as that! What we have here is a religio-cultural confrontation, with Elijah defending the purity of the true religion – the religion of Israel (monotheism). He challenged all the prophets of Baal and, upon winning the challenge, he killed all of them… all 450 of them (1Kings 18:20-40). Obviously, queen Jezebel was not amused. She was furious and would only rest with Elijah’s death.

This is why Elijah was running. He was running for his life. It is interesting that he was running into the wilderness, in the direction of the Horeb, the mount of God. Mount Horeb was also known as Mount Sinai, and, before Elijah, someone else had done the same thing. It was Moses. After killing an Egyptian, Moses had to leave Egypt. He had to run for his life. And, it was in the wilderness that he came upon Mount Sinai and, there, he was challenged by God and became the prophet-liberator of God’s people (Ex 2:11-15). Elijah was following Moses’ path. And, as we read in our text, he was not only physically, but also psychologically exhausted. He was aware that his hands were stained with blood – the blood of 450 human beings. What did he do? In his zeal to defend the one and true God, he killed other human beings. This was too much him. He simply wanted to die!

Following the same path as Moses, Elijah wants to return to his source – the holy mountain of God. He wants to renew himself, his spirituality, his mission. This indeed is a holy pilgrimage for him for his life, the meaning of his life, depends on it. Have I done the right thing? Is the God of Israel the one and true God? What is the purpose of religion? In other words, he is searching for the intentionality of God and religion, which also means the intentionality of his life. He needs to rediscover the face the living God – the God of Moses, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Rachel. And, in doing so, he knows he will rediscover himself and the meaning of his life. And, this he must do and God will help him. “All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat. He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you. So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (vv.5b-8).

In the gospel lesson, from John 6:41-51, we have another fragment of the Bread of Life discourse. We continue with the explanation of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes. We should not forget that, in the gospel of John, the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes is not a miracle, but a sign – a sign pointing to an intentionality, to a deeper and greater reality. The multitude, including the disciples, did not understand this. They took the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes as an “assistance miracle”, while, for Jesus, it was a “revolution sign”. For Jesus, people must go beyond “being assisted”, into organizing themselves and coming up with a concrete life project, one that speaks for equality and mutuality, reciprocity and justice – one that will sustain all human beings in the journey towards their full humanity. For Jesus, this is the project of his new family. But, they simply did not understand this…

Jesus is explaining therefore what has just happened. “At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, I am the bread that

came down from heaven. They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, I came down from heaven” (vv.41-42)? It was impossible for the Jewish mind to grasp the idea that God could incarnate God’s self (“come down from heaven”). Jesus was a human being and his parents’ presence testified to this. Jesus explains that what he is taking about has to do with the interior fire, with the life principle, with the intentionality, of every human being. What he is talking about has to with the “interior attraction” of every human being, there, where he/she has to “work out” the meaning of his/her life. For this reason, the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes will only be possible if people return to their sources, if they return to their intentionality: Why are we here? What are we about? 

Who/what animates us and what is our ultimate purpose? Only when we allow these questions to existentially work in us, as we look at Jesus, at his life, death and resurrection, then, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, as a life project for all of humanity is possible. (Remember that the gospel is being written after the death and resurrection of Jesus!) “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: They will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me” (vv.43-45).

Jesus is the one sent by the Father to nourish us, to renew our strength, as we continue this journey – the journey of returning to our sources as we search anew for our intentionality. And, he does this as we accept him into our lives by integrating him into our existence, by coming into communion with him, as we do when we consume a piece of bread. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (v.51). For the Semitic mind “my flesh” is a synonym for “my entire life”. Jesus offers us his entire life and his entire life as about the project of the kingdom of God. This was the intentionality of his life, fully realized at the moment of his death and resurrection.

We are ready now for two questions relevant to our life as members of Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church of Mérida.

1. The intentionality of religion. Today and here in Latin America, a great number of Christians who believe that if Christianity is to be authentic to

itself, it needs to return to its intentionality, to its source. The wounds of Christendom were deep and Latin Americans and creation are still suffering from it, especially the indigenous peoples. They have not been healed and Christianity has not helped in this healing process. Attempts have been made, (cf. the Medellín (1968), Puebla (1979), Santo Domingo (1992) and Aparecida (2007) conferences of Latin American Roman Catholic Bishops), but they have been ambiguous and left “in the middle of the road” … Many believe that Christianity needs to enter a process of kenosis, a process of divesting itself of all vestiges of power and prestige, of superiority and privilege, as to truly start walking (identifying) with the poor and humble of these lands, with those who were oppressed, exploited and discarded by the empire, with the complicity (if not direct help) of Christianity (Christendom). This is to say that Latin American Christians see themselves in Elijah. What have we done, in Latin America, to defend the “true” God and the “true” religion? How many cultures have we decimated? How many people have we killed? What many lives have we destroyed? And, what have we done to creation? In Latin American, with very few exceptions, we have a tired and exhausted Christianity, a Christianity with a death-wish.

We need to return to the desert and journey towards the holy mountain of God, as to rediscover God’s intentionality and our own as well. We need to renew ourselves from deep within and a renewal that will enable others, all of our sisters and brothers, to see the compassionate and loving face of God – the God of justice and life.

How are we doing this at Saint Luke’s? What brand of Christianity do we celebrate and live? What God are we imaging and what (consequent) spirituality are we celebrating? As the first Episcopal Church of Mérida, what difference are we making in the lives of our sisters and brothers?

2. The intentionality of our discipleship. To be a disciple of Jesus, as we are through baptism, means first of all to follow Jesus. This is the intentionality of our discipleship. We follow Jesus! This is to say that our source, our fountain of life, is Jesus. We need to return to him and make him the center of our lives and of our communities. And, let us be clear: we are not talking about the Jesus of Christendom, but the Jesus of the gospels, the Jesus of the poor and the afflicted, the Jesus of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes. This implies returning to the gospel and make it alive

in our lives and in the life of our communities. This can never be stressed enough! The intentionality of the gospel has to become reality, existentiality: Good News of liberation and justice, of compassion and love, of life and life in abundance.

This is what Jesus means when he says that he is the bread of life come down from heaven. He has to become the center of our lives in the sense that it is he and he alone who nourishes our inner hunger, who feeds our inner fire and who animates our inner life principle. His life must become our life. His life must become the life of our communities.

Who is Jesus for us at Saint Luke’s? How do we experience his presence and how de we celebrate his life, freely given for us and for the world? Where do we find him and how do we “consume” him as the bread of life come down from heaven? As another consumeristic product among many others, with the only difference that this one is a religious one? Or, do we truly aim to rediscover him and, while doing so, do we integrate his life into our lives and into the life of our community?


P. José

This will be the last reflection this month of August. Fr. José will be on vacation until the beginnings of September. 

Thank you.

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