THEME: FOOD FOR OUR JOURNEY TO HEAVEN
READINGS: 1 Kings 19:4-8 / Ephesians 4:30-5:2/ John 6:41-51
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It took forty years for the Israelites to journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. To have the strength to make such a long journey, God provided them with manna (cf. Exodus 16:12-15). Similarly, according to today’s first reading, the prophet Elijah was strengthened to make a long journey of forty days and forty nights to the mount of God after he had been fed by the food provided by an angel of God (cf. 1 Kings 19:4-8).
The number 40
The number forty (40) is mentioned in both the journey of the Israelites and of Elijah. In each case, the number forty signifies the fact that the journey was long. Now, if our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven forty days after His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3), it means that for us humans, the journey to heaven is a long one.
Food for the Heavenly Journey
As the Israelites and Elijah required food to make their respective journeys, so we all need some spiritual food to make the long journey to heaven. Fortunately, our Lord Jesus provides us with this spiritual food or bread. Moreover, the quality of the food Jesus provides us is far superior to that which the Israelites and Elijah ate. Regarding the superiority of His bread over that of the Israelites, Jesus told the crowd which followed Him after the multiplication of loaves: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die” (John 6:49-50).
The Bread of Heaven
Some of us travel abroad with our native or indigenous tastes, and we thereby prefer to eat our native dishes even there. However, the local dishes of a place are often the most appropriate for our health, because often the dishes of a particular country are determined by its climate. Thus, the heavy starchy dishes of certain African countries may not be appropriate for the winter season in the Scandinavian countries. Rather, the dishes of such countries are more appropriate to their climate. Similarly, for the journey to heaven, the best food is the bread of heaven. And that is exactly what Jesus offers us: “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41; cf. verse 51).
To elaborate further, Jesus offers us the best food for the journey to heaven because:
- It is, first and foremost, Jesus Himself (cf. John 6:41, 51). Hence, it is divine!
- It is bread from heaven (cf. John 6:41, 51); it is “baked” in heaven
- Unlike any other food, it is imperishable; it is eternal!
- Unlike the manna the Israelites ate, whoever eats the bread of Jesus will live forever (cf. John 6:49-51)!
- Unlike the earthly food an angel gave Elijah, what Jesus offers is the true bread of angels!
Types of the Bread of Heaven and their Modes of Consumption
One particular food source (e.g., maize) could be used to prepare different types of dishes; and each dish may have its peculiar way of consuming it. Similarly, though there is only one bread of heaven, it has several types, and each type has its mode of consumption. Here, I wish to focus on only two types of the bread of heaven.
First and foremost, as said already, Jesus Himself is the bread of heaven; and He is received by faith. Thus, He told the crowd who doubted His divine credentials despite witnessing and benefitting from His multiplication of loaves: “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” (John 6:47-48).
The second type of the bread of heaven is the flesh of Jesus. Hence, He told the crowd: “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). This type of the bread of heaven Jesus gives us in the form of unleavened wheat bread in the Holy Eucharist (cf. Mark 14:12, 22). We shall elaborate on this type of bread of heaven next Sunday. For now, let us remember that the Eucharistic bread is received not only orally but first and foremost by faith. And as the Israelites kept eating the manna until they reached the Promised Land, and Elijah ate the food more than once, so we should frequent the reception of Holy Communion until we depart from this life.
Beloved, like Elijah who made a long journey to the mount of God, we are all making a long journey to heaven, the true mount of God. As he was strengthened by food to reach his destination, so the bread of heaven strengthens us to journey to heaven. Whereas he was fed by an angel, we are fed by the Lord Jesus Himself, the bread of heaven. Let us always prepare our hearts to receive the bread of heaven first and foremost by faith; and we will be strengthened to eventually reach our heavenly destination. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis