Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
The bread that comes down from heaven is not just a bread which nourishes the body, but one which gives renewed life ‑ be this in the form of energy and purpose (as we see in the story of Elijah) or in the form of a gift of eternal life. As Jesus continues his discourse on the Bread of Life, he faces the complaints and criticism of the crowd, who take a very short-sighted view of what he says, and affirms for them that true life, a life the will never end, is found in him, he is the one who has come from the Father, and so is the living bread which gives life. Jesus here makes an explicit link between “belief” and “eating the bread of life”: the two lead to each other, and they both bring about that which man most desires ‑ to live for ever. The Response to the Psalm in many ways sums this up: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’
Notes for Readers
First Reading: 1 Kings 19:4‑8
Like last week, we have a story which illustrates the love God shows in feeding and nourishing his people ‑ in this case the prophet Elijah. There is a simple drama in this story, which turns from despair to hope in the space of a few short lines. The beginning is very poignant. Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal and brought rain to the land, but has made an enemy in Jezebel, wife of Ahab, who now wants him dead. So Elijah makes his escape; here we see the weariness of his life taking over, seen in those weighty words, “I have had enough.” This is such a common feeling that any reader and listener can feel through these words. The turning point comes after Elijah has gone to sleep, and the angel brings him food from God ‑ not once, but twice ‑ and utterly renews his strength, so that he can make the journey to meet God on Mount Horeb. Read this account simply, being aware of both the weight of Elijah’s burden and the power of the transformation the bread from heaven brings about.
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:30‑52
Paul continues his practical advice for living in the community of the Church ‑ very basic and almost simplistic advice, but no less true for that. The language he uses is almost childlike ‑ so perhaps it is no accident that he also refers to our behaviour as having to be like that of children of God. Given all this, there could be a maternal or paternal tenderness as you read this: perhaps (in your mind) you could focus on any children in the congregation, and make sure these words are addressed to all but through them. Or imagine how you would read this to your own children or grandchildren. This will also dictate your speed, which will have to be slow: pause between each of the instructions, so that it can settle in the minds of listeners. This is a really wonderful reading, which can unite both reader and listeners in a marvellous sense of what it is to be God's children, and a crystal clear picture of how we should love each other.