Tenth Sunday after Trinity John 6:35; 41-51 1 Kings 19:4-8
The prophet Elijah has a problem: Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head. He runs as far as he can and at the end of a day’s journey he just sinks into despair, saying to God that he’s ready to die, as he’s been no better than his ancestors. Twice, an angel wakes him up from sleep and tells him to eat and drink and be fortified for the journey ahead. This unexpected divine provision enables Elijah, against the odds, to reach Horeb, the mount of God.
In John’s gospel, we continue from last week, finding Jesus still talking about the bread from heaven and that he himself is the living bread that will satisfy for ever. The people’s first reaction is dismissive, questioning his words and complaining that he shouldn’t say things like that, as they think they know him as just ‘one of them’. It’s interesting to find the same kind of grumblings going on against Jesus as the people of Israel did against Moses in the desert during the Exodus. What they failed to grasp was that God wasn’t at their beck and call. Yes, they were a chosen people, and God took care of them in a special way. But that didn’t mean that they called the shots! Rather, God had chosen them for a specific purpose, on his own initiative; it was all about the renewal of the people, but it needed their response.
Everyone who is hungry or thirsty can receive the bread and water that Jesus is offering them. But they need to be humble enough to accept that God reveals himself in Jesus, before they can be truly nourished with the bread of life.
God’s initiative… God’s offer… Jesus giving himself for the sake of the people. The manna in the desert, the prophet Elijah being fed and watered while on the run from Jezebel… God is looking after those who belong to him through faith, for a particular purpose that benefits a community.
When Jesus says, ‘No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.’, what added dimension do we find in his words? I think what is included here is the reason why Jesus had to come, and teach, and serve, and die in the first place: to offer redemption and a new way of life that reaches into eternity for all. ‘For God so loved the world,’ those words of Jesus in John 3 come to mind. And also: ‘he saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd,’ in Mark 6 at the feeding of the five thousand. Those who are lost in sin and all that has gone wrong in their lives, and who need forgiveness – and that means all of humanity in one way or another – need to be fed with the living bread, so that their lives can be redeemed and renewed and find a future in God’s love. What they all have in common: the people of Israel during the Exodus and still in Jesus’ days, and the prophet Elijah is the fact that they are completely helpless in their situations. And although we tend to think of ourselves as rather sophisticated in our present day and in control of many aspects of modern life, we are helpless too, when it comes to finding the right kind of nourishment that truly heals and sets us free. And the question is, how are we going to receive the wholeness that God offers us in Jesus, if we don’t recognise our need for it, or if we try to bypass Jesus and seek it elsewhere?
Eternal life, or the quality of life through sharing Jesus, that is on offer to all who believe, begins now, with the acceptance of the unmerited and unexpected divine provision. If you want to be fortified for the journey, you need to take it now, so that the promise will be yours for ever. Taste and see what the living God can do for you. Amen.