“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors’” (1 Kg 19:4).
The previous verse tells us why Elijah decides to go to the desert and wants to die: “He was afraid; he got up and fled for his life” (1 Kg 19:3).
Elijah was a great prophet, a man of God, and a giant of the faith. Even the great men of God can suffer moments of crisis and fear, as in this case with the prophet Elijah, who flees in fear before the threats and persecution of the powerful Phoenician queen Jezebel.
The prophet’s crisis, however, becomes a moment of grace because God approaches him in the desert and feeds him, giving him new strength to live.
Elijah goes to the desert, lies down and goes to sleep. He’s just waiting to die. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:4). Like so many other believers in the Bible, Elijah complains before God. All that remains is to throw in the towel; everything has been useless.
And further, now Elijah is afraid. Fear leads Elijah not only to run away but also to fall asleep. Falling asleep is to remain unconscious, in a certain way: it’s an escape from reality.
However, when things turn dark; when what’s transpired becomes indecipherable and the future, uncertain: that’s when we have to be wide awake.
We must not turn off the light of conscience and discernment, for that is when we must be more clear-headed than ever.
The biblical story tells us that Elijah was awakened and fed by God, because God doesn’t want anyone to be asleep and fearful.
The prophet turns to hear the word of the Lord through an angel, saying two times: “Get up and eat” (1 Kings 19:5). After eating the first time, Elijah goes back to sleep.
Sometimes the crisis is so great
and the discouragement is so strong
that it is difficult to get up and walk.
But God is not overcome by our weakness; God insists for the second time in feeding Elijah: “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you” (1 Kings 19:7). God doesn’t want us to feel fearful, neither does he want us to sleep.
God offered Elijah—through his messenger—frugal and simple food: a pilgrim’s meal (“a cake baked on hot stones” and “a jar of water”, 1 Kings 19:6). At that moment you don’t need a succulent feast, but effective nutrition. That kind of effective nutrition to recover strength and hope, only God can provide. Elijah ate and “he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God” (1 Kings 19:8).
Before eating, the prophet’s flight was headed toward death; after being fed in the desert, that miraculous meal takes him to Mount Horeb or Sinai, where Moses met the Lord, where Israel first made a covenant with its God. God began everything on that mountain.
Elijah fought against the injustice and arrogance of the powerful, the manipulation of religion, the violent repression, and the use of fear as a form of domination. All of these shady schemes are opposed to God’s plan.
Elijah gave everything. In the end, in self-imposed exile, escaping to protect himself from the death threats of Queen Jezebel, he falls down, tired and hopeless, in the desert. He was tempted not to keep fighting, dreaming, and hoping. It can happen to anyone.
The biblical text, however, gives us the certainty that God’s nourishment allows us to come out of our unconscious state and overcome fear—not letting anyone deprive us of hope. The bread that God gives us in the desert is more powerful than the wiles and threats of the shadowy structures of oppression and death.
Today, too, we need a bread that is mysterious and effective, that allows us to walk with strength and hope.
That bread is Jesus, who today has told us: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51). Jesus offers to nourish us so as to give us strength, light, hope, and the breath of life that come from the same God, the creator of life.
If Jesus nourishes us with his love and kindness, with his light and with his strength, nothing can take away our joy and hope. In our interior, in the depths of our heart, God feeds us with his Son, the Bread come down from heaven.
We have heard Jesus say: “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” The Father mysteriously draws us to Jesus; he makes Jesus attractive to us. And if Jesus presents himself again to us—attractive, fascinating, familiar in the depths of our being—we are attracted to the good, the beautiful, the noble.
If Jesus makes us attractive, we will be fascinating and attractive, which does good for the human person—which builds a better world.
Bishop Silvio José Báez, O.C.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Managua
Homily, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (excerpts)
12 August 2018
You can read the full text of the homily on our blog here.