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Sunday Scripture: Obstacles to faith

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

By Terrance Callan

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

We often encounter obstacles that prevent us from simply being or doing what we want. At times such obstacles cause us to give up our initial goal. At other times we are able to overcome these obstacles and reach our goal despite them.

The reading from the Gospel according to John is another part of the presentation of Jesus as the bread of life that is found in the sixth chapter of the Gospel. This passage describes people who find it difficult to accept Jesus’ claim that He is the bread of life that came down from heaven. They know his parents and think it obvious that Jesus has not come down from heaven but is an ordinary human being. They do not understand that the word of God became flesh in Jesus, and thus looks no different from an ordinary human being even though He came down from heaven.  Jesus responds to their difficulty by saying that no one can come to Him, i. e., believe that He is the bread of life, unless the Father who sent Him draws that person. We cannot believe that Jesus is the bread of life on the basis of appearances. We can only believe if God somehow brings us to this faith.

Jesus goes on to say that the one who believes in Him, i. e., who eats the bread of life, has eternal life. Ordinary food, even the manna that God gave the Israelites in the desert, can only sustain life temporarily; eventually we all die even if we have all the ordinary food we need. But Jesus promises us that eating the bread of life by believing in Him gives us a life that never ends, that continues even after death. This is a compelling reason to eat the bread of life.

In the reading from the First Book of Kings we hear a story about the prophet Elijah. Jezebel, wife of Ahab, king of Israel, had sworn to kill Elijah. He fled into the desert, and there, overcome by despair, asked God to take his life. However, God did not grant Elijah’s prayer, but instead twice gave him food to eat. Elijah ate it and was strengthened to carry on. Like Elijah we can be tempted to refuse life because we fear that life will be too hard. If we overcome our fear of life, the bread of life will give us the strength to do whatever we must do.

The reading from the Letter to the Ephesians does not explicitly mention bread of life. However, it does speak of the Holy Spirit with whom we have been sealed. This can be seen as another way of talking about eating the bread of life; if we believe in Jesus as the bread of life, we receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the life in us that never ends, the source of strength for our journey. The reading speaks of the possibility that we sadden the Holy Spirit by our bitterness, passion and anger, harsh words, slander and malice.  Even after eating the bread of life, we can fail to live out the consequences of doing so. This reading urges us to avoid that danger, offering us the example of God and Christ’s love for us to inspire us.

Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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