Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 9)
We continue with Jesus’ teachings on the eucharist today and the idea we began last week with Jesus proclaiming himself to be the bread of heaven.
I want to start, however, with the first reading from the Book of Kings. Elijah was a prophet who was depressed. I think if we read the selection carefully, we could put together all the elements of a good case for depression.
I checked out a doctor’s list for signs of depression and here’s what I found. A person may be depressed if they can’t sleep or want to sleep too much. Elijah sat down in the middle of the day and fell asleep under a broom tree. A depressed person finds tasks that were all right before to be difficult. Elijah was finding it difficult to prophesy, especially when no one heeded his prophecies. The depressed person feels hopeless and helpless. Elijah asks that he might die! The depressed person can’t control negative thoughts. Elijah says “I am no better than my ancestors – take away my life.” The depressed person has no appetite. Elijah hadn’t been eating and didn’t want to eat until the angel forced him to. Even after he hate he went to lie down again. The final thing that is noted in depression is that the person feels life is not worth living. And that seems to be the whole attitude of Elijah in this reading.
Many people, maybe even some of us, suffer from depression. Elijah had no diagnosis, no doctors to prescribe for him,but God sends an angel to him to feed him and to push him on. The passage ends with Elijah “went in the strength of that food, forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mountain of God.
We seem to have made medical strides with depression today, but one thing a patient is not told is to put some hope in God who told us he would never send anything to us that we couldn’t handle with his grace. It was, in this case, food that God sent, that strengthened him and pulled back on his depressive state.
We, too, need the food that God sends. Our Psalm says “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” “I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” A little bit of God goes a long way, and a little of the food from heaven can cure us.
That, too, seems to be the message of Jesus in the Gospel today, among a number of theological messages John presents to us.
Our Gospel passage picks up from last week when Jesus proclaimed himself the bread from heaven and some of the literal minded crowd wondered how he could say he was from heaven when they knew he was just a carpenter’s son, the son of Joseph.
In answer, Jesus begins a discourse on how God has sent this bread to them in the form of a human, and has given grace to people to allow them to see Jesus for that bread. Jesus explains that if they have learned from the Old testament and have been taught by God, they will come to him, for they will see him as the fulfillment of that promise of old.
Then the shocking promise comes. If you eat of the bread from heaven, bread which means both the teaching and words of Jesus, and later the eucharistic bread that is his body, you will not die.
On one level the people must have thought he was crazy – how could they eat the bread from heaven and how was someone not supposed to die – ever! It made no sense. But Jesus doesn’t let it go. He says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world [to accomplish this feat] will be my own flesh.
As I said last week, it makes sense to us because most of us have been brought up with this concept, this idea from our youth, but imagine hearing it the first time. Is it not surprising that many people found him a bit crazy, if this was how he was talking. I asked you last week to reflect on the importance of the eucharist, and this week I would like to to reflect on the healing power of the eucharist. Just as God was able to help Elijah’s depression, the food that came down from heaven which is Jesus, can also help us to be healed, sometimes physically, but most often spiritually. These few weeks in John, we can find Jesus at his most outrageous self in his teachings, something we have never known or have forgotten. But the content of what he says needs to rattle our own brains so that we can come to depend on the eucharist, to know that it is truly a healing gift – not just for forgiveness of sins, its major accomplishment, but for other healings as well.
Do we think about what we are doing when we go to communion? Do we see it as a healing power? Do we see it as partaking in Jesus’ death to give life to us? Do we discover the peace that comes with communion? Does it influence our lives during the week? Do we miss it dreadfully when we can’t partake of it? I hope that you will spend a few moments this next week, asking yourself these questions, and if it has become something rote and ritualistic for you with little meaning, try to discover the true meaning and how it can affect your life for the better. Does it lead to what Paul tells us today – “to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
And this is the eucharistic Good News I proclaim today!
Bishop Ron Stephens
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]