The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 1Kgs. 19: 4-8; Eph. 4: 30-5:2; Jn. 6: 41-51]
Surprisingly, for me at least, the desert is one of the oldest and most prominent metaphors for the spiritual life. Deserts are not inviting environments. They are certainly not places to go for comfort and even the necessities of life cannot be taken for granted. It is easy to become disoriented in the desert and getting lost in the desert can easily mean not being heard from again. Nevertheless beginning in Genesis the desert has been the privileged image of the place not only for seeking God, but for encountering God.
Abraham was called to leave the familiar and settled surroundings of Haran and wander in the deserts of Canaan. There God came to Abraham and revealed his destiny to him. The Israelites were called out of slavery in Egypt into the freedom of the desert where they met God and became his people. Still there were times when the familiar and taken-for-granted life of slavery seemed preferable to an unpredictable life of dependence on God. Only with difficulty and through times of discouragement did Israel learn that God was with them to support them and nourish them. Elijah had championed God’s cause against the prophets of Baal and incurred the wrath of Jezebel, who vowed to take his life. His only refuge was the desert and there in his discouragement he asked God to take his life. God’s answer was to nourish his life and give him strength to come to the mountain of God where he would meet God.
We do not live in a geographical desert, but the geographical desert of scripture points beyond itself to the interior desert that we all carry within us. It is to this desert that we are all called in order to meet God and find ourselves. To enter this desert we must be willing to leave behind our familiar and comfortable routines. To live in this desert we must be willing to accept the disorientation of an unfamiliar landscape and the uncertainty of God’s unpredictable ways. In our times of discouragement we will be faced with the choice of giving up, or of looking to God for the nourishment that will sustain our lives.
That nourishment is Jesus Christ, who became one of us not only to show us the way to God, but to be our way to God. We follow Christ by imitating Christ, and in imitating Christ we leave behind our old self and become a new person formed on Christ. There will be times of discomfort, times of disorientation, times of discouragement. We have Christ’s words to guide us. We have Christ’s body and blood to nourish us. With faith and hope in God’s promise to be with us, let us answer his call to the desert where will find life, the fullness of life that will last forever.