19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – August 12, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:2-9; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51
I have begun to notice more and more how much pressure we place on ourselves. Especially with young people, there is a lot of pressure to be perfect: the perfect son or daughter, the perfect student, the perfect athlete, the perfect whatever. For many reasons, there is this attitude that some perfection is demanded of us, that being perfect is what is expected from God, parents, teachers, coaches—you name it! And, of course, we immediately turn to that passage from Matthew to back-up this belief which says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (c.f., Mt. 5:48). The issue, though, is that we human beings cannot live-up to this perfection; we are incapable of this type of perfection. And this is OK, because this command to “be perfect” is not a command to change overnight, to become the perfect person overnight. Rather, it is an invitation; an invitation to a new way of looking at life: to look at it as the Lord does, to see it through the Divine Vision of the Lord. It is an invitation to allow ourselves to walk the journey the Lord has marked-out for our life, the journey he has envisioned for our life.
The opposite of this is the need to forge our own path, for us to tell the Lord what our journey is going to be. This is exactly what I did in my own life for the past twenty-five years! For instance, when I was a kid, I didn’t listen to my parents, and instead decided, for example, that I wasn’t going to do my homework. Or it when I got older—and I believe I’ve mentioned this before—I avoided the Lord calling me down the path to be a priest, and instead started sprinting down the road to be a doctor and get married. I went to college expecting to be able to avoid the path the Lord had laid out for me. And it worked for a while! But no matter what, I couldn’t avoid it and forging my own way became more and more difficult.
And so just like Elijah in our first reading, I got tired of running, of fleeing from what I thought my fate was. Elijah, who was fleeing death, stopped his flight after a day’s journey into the desert; after a day of fleeing from what he thought must be the Lord’s plan for him—to die at the hands of those who were pursuing him—he just gave up and prayed for death. He prayed, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.” Finally, at the point of a complete lack of self-sustenance, Elijah entrusted his life into the Lord’s hands, and prayed a most powerful prayer: “O Lord, take my life.”
After about six months in college—after a rough couple of months—I finally prayed this prayer. I prayed, “O Lord, I can’t do this on my own, I can’t figure this all out. O Lord, take my life.” And what did he do? He sent a wonderful woman into my life! She was kind, beautiful, smart, holy…kind, beautiful—don’t know if I mentioned those! And I said, “O thank you, Jesus! I knew you didn’t want me to be a priest! This is perfect!” But really, the Lord, in his Divine Vision, had forged a new path for me, a new path to lead me to my destiny. Through this relationship, she began to teach me what true faith and trust in the Lord truly is. She began to teach me the divine vision. She began to show me the need for abandonment to the Lord and his plan for one’s life. The Lord, with his vision, through her presence, was already leading my back to himself, drawing me back to himself. Because it was through this relationship that I finally realized that I could not avoid the call of the Lord. But it wasn’t until much later that I saw this, until much later that I recognized his presence in this! It wasn’t until after several years of seminary, several years of listening for his voice, begging to understand his providential plan for my life, that he gave me the grace to see this relationship through his vision.
This is what the Lord is trying to help the “murmuring Jews” to understand in the Gospel today: to understand that they—that we—cannot always understand the vision and plan of the Lord. At the end of last week’s Gospel, some of the Jews were left pretty confused and skeptical about Jesus. Just like their ancestors did in the wilderness, they murmur with incredulity and skepticism. But Jesus tries to help them to see, to see with the divine vision, to see as the Lord sees. He tries to “draw” them back to the Father so that they can be instructed and taught by Him, so that they can see with the vision of God.
And all he is trying to get them to see is one simple thing: that he, Jesus, is the one sent from the Father to show us the way! In fact, Jesus is the way to the Father, he is the truth the Father teaches, he is the life the Father wishes to give! And just as the Israelites needed the bread from heaven to sustain them on their journey through the wilderness, just as Elijah needed the food from the angels to sustain him on his journey through the wilderness, so too, we are in need of bread. We are in need of a bread which will give us strength for our journey. And not just strength for a few days or until we die, no! We need a food which lasts forever, which will last for an eternal journey, past the confines of this earthly life. We need a bread which will take us all the way to our Destiny. We need a living bread which comes from heaven and will sustain us for the journey to heaven. This can be no ordinary bread! And it isn’t.
The “bread” we are given, the “bread” the Father gives to us, is nothing other than himself, God himself. We are given God made Man, God incarnate: Jesus Christ in the flesh. And God made Man gives our humanity what it could not give itself: it gives it a path to the Father. In his death on the cross, Jesus—God-made-Man—provides for the life of the world, for eternal life! His self-gift in death makes possible our eternal life.
This is the Lord’s vision, the Divine Vision, for our journey to Himself. We may think that it is about forging our own path, or being perfect enough for the Lord to “let us in to heaven.” But really, it is about entrusting ourselves to the Lord and his vision for our lives. It is about recognizing that we cannot do it ourself, and that the most powerful prayer is, “O Lord, take my life! I place it in your hands.” It is about receiving the Eucharist not as some prize because we are perfect, but receiving it as a powerful medicine and nourishment because we are weak (c.f., Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 47). It is about letting him to teach us his vision and sustain us through his very flesh as we walk this journey through the wilderness, as we seek to experience more and more the fullness of life, eternal life, His very life.