The behaviour of many of us is not very different from that of Elijah, in the first reading of today, or of the people who encounter Jesus in the Gospel text of today. Like Elijah, many of us are wont to give in too easily to despondency, discouragement, and despair. We give up, we give in, and we accept defeat when the road ahead gets tough and the going steep. When trials come our way, we prefer to regard them as hindrances and obstacles rather than as opportunities. One of the reasons why this happens is because we do not trust ourselves and God enough. We set limits on what God can and cannot do. We decide in advance the form that his manifestation will take and, when this does not happen, we conclude that he is not present.
In the first reading, Elijah, who has had difficulty with Queen Jezebel, flees from her presence and goes to Beersheba, the southernmost town in the land that was under Judah’s control. Thus, he was well beyond the reach of Jezebel. Though the Lord had shown his power and might when Elijah challenged the priests of Baal and prevailed over them, Elijah still loses hope. He has had enough. Now, he wants to give up, he wants to cave in, he wants to die. Even in Elijah’s consternation and hopelessness, God does not give up on him. God believes in Elijah and invites him to believe in himself. The bread that Elijah is given by the angel sustains him and enables him to continue on his way along the path that he has chosen. Elijah is assured that it is this bread that will give him the strength that he requires to persevere in what God wants him to do. Elijah accepts the bread and is able to go on.
This bread, however, pales in comparison to the bread that Jesus gives to anyone who is willing to believe. However, the people in the Gospel text of today were not willing to do so. They had made up their minds that God could not come to them in the ordinary and mundane form of bread. They had decided that God would only come in glory, power, and might and, that when he came, he would rule and not serve. They were confident that God could come only in the spectacular, the extra-ordinary, and the miraculous. This is why they simply cannot believe that Jesus could be the Messiah. Since they thought they “knew” where Jesus came from, they thought they “knew” that he could not be the Messiah. They began to grumble and resist his claims. They, too, like Elijah, set limits on what God could do. However, unlike Elijah, who later listened to the angel of the Lord and partook of the bread, the crowd who listened to Jesus did not relent and so remained in their unbelief. They were unable to eat the bread that would indeed give life.
This is what the author of the letter to the Ephesians means when he exhorts his readers, in the second reading of today, not to grieve the Holy Spirit. The sin against the Holy Spirit is not to believe that Jesus has been sent by God for the salvation of the world. It is to disbelieve and refuse to accept the fact that Jesus has been offered up to God, that he even offered himself up, so that others might have life in all its fullness. Since believers have been transformed into Christ, they must live that new life. At the same time, they must be actively engaged in strengthening what they already are. Conversion, baptism, putting off the old and putting on the new, being sealed with the Spirit and freed from sin, are not merely past events. Rather, these events have introduced them into a new reality, the body of Christ, which is still in the process of growing. Like the body, the development of the whole depends upon, and contributes to, the well-being of individual members.
These individual members today are each one of us who continue to believe in Jesus and live out his message of unconditional love. It is a message which will keep echoing when we do not set limits on the magnanimity and graciousness of God. It is a message which will resound when we realize that our God makes himself as easily available to us as bread. Though he could have chosen a different symbol by which he could have been available to the world, he chose the symbol of bread because he wanted to be available to all people everywhere and at every moment. He wanted to live in them and have them live in him. This is why when we, like Elijah, are tempted to say “Enough” because we have had more than our share of trials and tribulations and when we, like the crowd who encountered Jesus, are tempted to disbelieve because we cannot see as we think we must, he keeps reminding us that he is there and will be our bread for the journey. He keeps reminding us that, with him in us, we need never fear, we need never give up and, we need never despair. It is a message that will keep resonating in our hearts when we partake of the bread that he gives. It is a message that will resonate in out hearts when we dare, in our own way, to become bread for others.