Homily by Deacon Terry Ellerman
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I I Kings 19:4-8
Reading II Ephesians 4:30, 5:2
Gospel John 6:41-51
“The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Our first reading in the Gospel today is really about the love that God has for us, and the importance of us having trust in him. I think I can safely say that we all have been depressed, or had down or hard times. We ask, “What am I going to do” when we have more bills than we have money, or because a relationship isn’t going the best that it can, or because of poor health concerns, or because of the death of a loved one. There are times we can say, “God help me, or, where are you God?”
But if we can put ourselves in that mindset — that is where Elijah was in the first reading in the Book of Kings. To give you a little background: The prophet Elijah was sent to Israel and at that time the King and Queen were not people who worshiped our God, Yahweh. They worshiped Baal. Elijah’s goal was to get the people back on track and worship God.
Right before Elijah appeared, all the prophets of Yahweh were killed. So Elijah had this bright idea: “Let’s get the 150 prophets of Baal together.” So they did. And he said, “I’ll make you a deal. Let’s see who really is the true god. How about if we set up an altar, build the altar, bring the wood and bring the sacrifice — but do not light it. And after we do that, why don’t we pray and ask our god to light the altar.”
Why they agreed, I don’t know, but they agreed. So here are the 150 prophets of Baal, they build their altar, they have their wood, and they walk around the altar and sing and pray: “My god, Baal, light the altar.” Nothing happens. And Elijah, who is trying to stick it to them, said, “Well, maybe you are not singing loud enough or praying loud enough.”
So they pray louder and they sing louder. Two hours later, there is no sacrifice, and there is no fire.
Now it is Elijah’s turn. He comes, builds the altar and places the wood and brings the sacrifice. Then he says something different, “Will you help me. Will you throw some water on the wood, and will you build a trench around the altar and fill it with water?”
Of course they say, “Sure. We’ll do that.” Elijah prays to Yahweh, and what do you think happens? The altar lights with fire. The water in the trench dissipates and who is the true God — the God Yahweh.
Then Elijah does something — right, wrong or not — he has the 150 prophets of Baal killed. Soon after Elijah receives word, by way of someone else, that the Queen has said, “I’m going to kill you.”
So what do you think Elijah will do? And now we are coming to the place covered in the First Reading today. Elijah runs into the desert thinking, “They are going to come after me and kill me?”
There Elijah is, lying under the broom tree, and he says, “God, I didn’t want to be a prophet to begin with. And nothing is working out. Now they are after me, and they are going to kill me. Take my life now.”
Remember, when Elijah ran into the desert he didn’t take anything with him. He was on the run and was ready to die. So he goes to sleep and an angel comes to him and says, “Wake up. Here is some bread and water.” So he eats some bread and water and goes back to sleep. Another angel comes to him and says, “Wake up. You’ve got a long journey ahead of you.”
So he gets up and eats and drinks, and then for the next 40 days and 40 nights he walks until he reaches Mount Horeb — also called Mr. Sinai. After he arrives at Sinai, God asks him, “What are you doing here.”
Elijah answers, “What do you mean, what am I doing here? Didn’t you send me here? Did I misunderstand?”
The bottom line is that God then appoints two new kings and a new prophet, Elisa, who will then help Elijah.
Sometimes I think we are a lot like Elijah. We do the best we can. We think that everything should be perfect and right, and yet, it isn’t. But the question is: Do we believe in God? Do we think that he will help us?
Since the beginning of time, people have looked for the fountain of youth. From the beginning of time people have asked, “Do we have to die? And if we do die, what happens to us? What do we do, what do we need to do?”
After Columbus discovered America, Ponce de Leon heard there was a fountain of youth somewhere. So he set out to find it, and as we know, he did not find it.
Several years ago there was a movie called “Cocoon.” Did anybody watch “Cocoon?” I must have been the only one. It was about this retirement center of old people and a story about their lives. In the movie this guy comes upon a house next door to the retirement home that has a swimming pool. So he climbs into the pool and starts swimming. And what happens? He becomes youthful. Every time he swims he can do more things. And of course other people around ask, “What’s with him? Whatever he has, I want it.”
Eventually he tells them, and what do they do? They all go swimming in the swimming pool. Then they discover that the pool is what it is, because there are alien eggs in the pool that make them youthful. Then they meet the aliens and the aliens offer them a life in which they will not die — and offer them a chance to go Antarea.
The story is fictitious but the point is: Don’t we go throughout our lives and ask, “Why can’t we be youthful forever. Why do we have to die?”
Well, the Gospel is our fountain of youth. In the Gospel Jesus says, “I am the bread of from Heaven who has come down for you. If you eat this and believe in me, what will happen? You will have everlasting life.”
So if we really think about it, true, our bodies are going to die. But are we going to die? Absolutely not. And if we do what God has told us to do and follow Christ, we will have everlasting life with him — it is that promise of everlasting life.
If we look at salvation history, God has always taken care of his people — and bread and water, and bread and wine, symbolize that. Remember in the book of Exodus when Moses takes the Israelites out of Egypt, they start grumbling and say, “We should be back in Egypt and live as slaves because we are going to die here in the desert.” We heard this story a couple of weeks ago. And what does God do? He gives them manna every morning and quail every night.
And what did Jesus do when he had a large crowd around him? He offered to give them something to eat. He multiplied the fish and the loaves and they had plenty to eat.
Elijah in the First Reading had nothing to eat. What did God do? God provided Elijah with bread and water. Every Mass we attend, what do we do? We come to this altar to receive the bread and the wine that is our sustenance. It is that bread and wine that helps us live from week to week and live like Christ wants us to live, and do what he needs us to do.
When we come to this Mass we come to praise God, not as an individual, but as a family and as a community. We find out about God in the Word, we find him in the bread and the wine, we see him in the priest, and finally we see him in each other. So we come today to thank God for all that he has given us and to remind ourselves that we are a people of hope — and we are people who have found the fountain of youth. We are people who know that when we die, and if we follow Christ, we will be in Heaven. And we will be perfect as we see the perfect God that we have.
So today as we come forward to receive his real body and blood, let us remember: This is the nourishment we need to give us life, and it is also the nourishment that helps us find eternal life.
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Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.