1Kings 19: 4-8; John 6: 41-51
It’s hard not to feel for Elijah in today’s first reading. It was just a few months ago that we heard the next portion of this reading when he gets to the cave and looks for God in the fire, and earthquake, only to find God in the whisper of the wind, blowing within his heart and soul. But we go to feel for him. We know what it’s like on this journey. His back is up against the wall. Life isn’t nearly what he had expected it to be or wanted it to be. He’s feeling alone and abandoned. All in the name of God who somehow put him in this position! He has nowhere to turn. Queen Jezebel pretty much has a warrant out for his head. He’s exposed and taken out the false gods and prophets, exposing them for what they really were. You just got to feel for him. We all know what that’s like in life when we’re at our wits end. We’d all want to run and hide as he does today. That’s where we pick up the reading today. He even would prefer death! Ironically, that’s what he will experience, but even that will come in a different form than he prays and thinks of at this moment of despair!
In his moment of despair, though, we hear today that an angel appears to him to offer him food. Understandably, he’s not all that interested in eating anything or listening to anyone associated with God, considering so much disappointment in his life right now surrounds that place. But the angel encourages him to eat for the journey; you’re going to need to eat in order to continue the journey. Most notably, though, is that the journey is not to return yet to what he has left behind or to his original call as a prophet. He wasn’t quite ready to return to that place. The food for the journey moves him further and further out into the desert. Elijah must first embark an another journey, deeper into this great place of emptiness in his life, forty days and forty nights, into the depths of the desert, physically, and into his very soul. Elijah must be emptied of all else that he has fed himself with…the despair, the heartache, the expectations, the sadness, before he can return and face his true identity. That little bit of food under the broom tree is enough to take you on your way to these deeper parts. Elijah must make the journey from all that he thought and held onto to the depths of his being to find what will truly nourish. Heck, he’ll be able to confront most anything because not even death can stand in the way once he finds that place!
Desert is a common theme in Scripture. We know Jesus begins his public life in the same way. Before he can go out to both Jew and Gentile, Jesus must go into the depths of his being in the midst of the desert. He must confront his own temptations and the strong pull to be something other than we are and he is. In this squabble with the scribes and pharisees, he comes from that place and tries to lead them to it as well, the place that will endure forever. But like Elijah, they think they have it all figured out. They think they have him figured out in a derogatory way recognizing him only as the son of Joseph. That’s true to a point but he’s more than that and so are we. The scribes and pharisees fear the desert more than anything for it feels like losing control, which is what they thrive on. They like things neatly boxed, fitted together, all the answers and life figured out in their own way. But that’s simply the god they’ve created for themselves and works for them. It’s not the God who feeds eternally, inviting us into that second journey of life as it was with Elijah, calling us to something more, paradoxically, in our very emptiness we find the life of the world.
Now we may find ourselves in the midst of the desert of our lives at this very moment. Maybe we’re right where Elijah is, questioning how all of this can be, bemoaning what life is throwing at us, but that’s the place where we are most vulnerable and the place that God can speak and feed us with the true bread. This isn’t just something that we receive nor is it something that we need to have all figured out. If we think we do, it’s most likely more a theological construct where we get to determine who eats and who doesn’t, but the journey of the desert is one that takes us somewhere deeper into our souls that needs to be nourished and at the same time nourishes us for the journey. In the process and in the journey we find what it is we have always looked for, the true bread from heaven, God, and most likely not in the way we wanted or expected, but God nonetheless. To live our true vocation we must allow ourselves into the journey, and face death like Jesus and Elijah, into the desert of our lives, in order to go back, and yet forward, and be who we always were called to be and to the place that will give us life eternally, both now and forever.