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Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


barelyA reading from the First Book of Kings
(Chapter 19:4-8)
 
David was a very good king of Israel—the best. Some hundred years later, in the ninth century before the birth of Jesus, Ahab was one of the worst kings of Israel. He had a very bad wife, Jezebel, whose name and reputation have survived for thousands of years. She worshiped the false god Baal and had her own band of false prophets protecting her.
 
Elijah was a true prophet of Israel, called by God to proclaim the truth and persecuted by the king and queen. In this reading, we find Elijah exhausted and in despair. “He prayed for death, saying: This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (verse 4b). Then he fell asleep and was awakened by an angel who provided him with food and water which Elijah consumed before falling asleep again. But the angel woke him up and ordered him, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you! He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb” (verses 7b-8).
 
This story is a testament to God providing food and hope for his people in a time of great need. God also feeds us in many ways, especially in the Eucharist which gives us nourishment for our souls and strength to go on in the face of challenges and suffering.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 34:2-3,4-5,6-7,8-9)
 
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (verse 9a). How has God’s goodness nourished you in your times of need?
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
(Chapter 4:30-5:2)
 
“Brothers and sisters: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. 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. So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love as Christ loved us” (verses 30-32).
 
Ephesus was the third largest city in early Christianity after Jerusalem and Antioch, and it was filled with a variety of magicians and other strange characters who often caused bad behavior and superstition. That is why Paul is insistent that Christians behave differently, based on the all-powerful love “as Christ loved us.”
 
Two thousand years later, the message is the same—to allow the love of Christ to overcome divisions and controversies in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our parishes, and our country. It all starts with our one-on-one relationships, whatever they may be. Of course, no one of us is perfect or always loving in the way we ought to be, and that is why the mercy and forgiveness of God is so important. Sometimes, when we have hurt someone, we may feel so guilty or stubborn or embarrassed that we do not try to heal the relationship, and then things get worse. But if we reach down deep in our hearts, we will find the love of the Spirit to guide us.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 6:41-51)
 
Jesus’ townspeople knew him and “his father and his mother,” so how can he say, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”? (verse 42). Jesus tells his critics to “stop murmuring” and then tells them, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (verses 48-51).
 
Bread was a major item in ancient Israel mainly because so many people were hungry for so much of the time. If the harvest was bad, they went hungry. If the Romans took too much of their crops, the people of Israel were hungry. If a farmer died or became disabled, his family often became hungry. Bread was life, and now Jesus says that he is the real bread, the eternal bread, the bread that came from God himself. All this was hard for people to believe, but some did and followed Jesus, because they knew what bread was and how it was also a symbol of life itself. They wanted to be fed in spirit as well as in body.
 
Today, as we come to the Eucharist, we too ask to be filled with the “Bread of Life” and we will not be denied. Jesus offers himself to us once again under the symbols of bread and wine, and so we are gifted by Jesus himself one more time.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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