19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Picture: cc Ilya Kuzniatsou
My dear friends, do you know what it feels like to lose your appetite? When I lose my appetite, it doesn’t mean that I’m not hungry, or that I don’t need food. I do. It’s just that, at that moment, I somehow forget the natural connection between hunger and food. This may happen when I’m overwhelmed by some stronger feeling. Such as when I’m too excited or too tired. It's quite understandable then, once in a while, to forget to eat. But a prolonged loss of appetite can be dangerous. An example is the life-threatening condition known as anorexia.
I mention this, because a loss of appetite is what we find in our readings today. In the first reading, Elijah is on the run. Hunted by Queen Jezebel, who wants to kill him, the prophet is so overwhelmed by exhaustion that he loses even his appetite for life, let alone for food. Thankfully, God refuses to let Elijah give up. Repeatedly, an angel is sent to rouse him from sleep, to remind him to eat, and to refresh him, so that he is again able to experience God.
In the gospel, it’s clear that what has been lost is the appetite for spiritual food. And this condition has become chronic, particularly among the religious leaders. It’s as though they are suffering from a spiritual anorexia. Having lost their taste for spiritual food, they’re unable to recognise the bread of life, even when it stands in front of them. Instead of welcoming and partaking of it, they complain. They feel threatened by it. Perhaps they are overwhelmed by other hungers, anxious to satisfy other appetites.
But still Jesus refuses to give up. Relying on the power of God, he continues to invite people to eat. For just as God had sent an angel to feed Elijah, so too does the heavenly Father continue to draw people to Jesus, teaching them to follow the One whose Dying and Rising leads them into eternal life. Not just life beyond the grave, but that fullness of life that begins already here and now. The kind of life described in the second reading, which reminds us to be friends with one another, and kind, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ. A life of love, lived in right relationship – with God, with others, and with all of Creation.
All of which presents us at once with a great consolation and a serious challenge. It’s a great consolation to know that even now, God keeps working tirelessly to draw starving people to Christ. For isn’t this what is so sorely needed even here, in our own apparently affluent and advanced country? Where a growing number of us – particularly our school-going children – seem to be losing their appetite for life? And much as we may blame this on the pandemic, hasn’t Covid-19 only exacerbated a pre-existing condition? And doesn’t this situation pose a serious challenge to us Christians? First to truly allow Christ to nourish us, to faithfully live that fullness of life he offers, and to generously share it with others.
Sisters and brothers, like Elijah in the first reading, there are many exhausted people around us, who desperately need a messenger from God to remind them to get up and eat. What must we do to become such angels against anorexia today?