Throughout the last several weeks, the Scripture Readings have created a mosaic depicting the sublime mystery of the Eucharist. The continuing narrative shows us how carefully the seeds of this mystery were planted in the early stages of Salvation History. Discouragement, fear, disappointment and frustration can all lead to a first response of shock and rejection. Elijah felt it - and those who first witnessed Jesus' words and works felt it as well.
Today we first hear the marvelous excerpt from the Book of Kings that shows us the prophet Elijah journeying in the desert, weary, discouraged, even praying for death. An angel is sent by God to offer him food and drink. He takes a little, but then falls back to sleep. Then the angel stirs him and cries out: "Get up and eat or else the journey will be too long for you."
In the Gospel reading, we can almost hear the shock and unbelief spread throughout the crowd. Looks of dismay and disappointment are interspersed by the flashing angry eyes of indignation. People grumble and complain that what they have just heard Jesus say seems to border on blasphemy. To make matters worse, Jesus expected them to take his words literally. Their grumbling was not unlike that of their ancestors in the desert when they too expressed their ingratitude by judging the ways of God's infinite Goodness.
Jesus further scandalized these folks by claiming, "I am the living bread," and suggesting that they must eat his flesh, the Bread of Life.
Instead of being scandalous, Jesus' words were life-giving. People today continue to wander aimlessly in a way not very dissimilar to the Jews wandering in the desert, starving for lack of food and a living relationship with a loving God. Even as the heavenly manna was sent to nourish the physical bodies of the ancient Israelites, so our God sent us his Son, the true heavenly food, to nourish our entire beings.
And like those in the Gospel reading, Jesus is telling us that we have nothing to fear - that we should not be discouraged. He is the One the world has been waiting for. He is the One whose gaze has been turned towards the Father for all eternity. He is the only One who has seen the Father. He is the only One who can give eternal life to those who believe.
In some ways - perhaps in many ways - we mirror the ancient Israelites. We grumble and complain. Perhaps we grumble over our jobs, complain about our neighbors, or about far more important aspects of our lives. If we do this enough, we will see negativity everywhere.
It is easy to be negative. It is also contagious. One negative thought leads to another. One negative person easily infects another.
But we have been gifted with the eternal positive. The Word of God has become one of us. He who from the beginning of time has had a intimate relationship with the Father, shares his life with us. St. Paul had plenty of reason to grumble and despair. He was mocked, insulted, scourged, beaten, etc. Yet he writes to the Christians at Ephesus, "All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ."
We are the people of the promise. The angel of God calls to us as was Elijah the prophet: "Get up now and eat this food - or else the journey will be too long for you."