1 Kings 19:4-8
Elijah was afraid. He was literally running for his life. He had just accomplished great things for God and had done what he thought was required by God, namely slitting the throats of 450 priests of Baal. But now that Jezebel was determined to inflict the same fate on Elijah he was deathly afraid and running away. Elijah also felt betrayed that God was not protecting him and he even was at the point of admitting his own sinfulness and that he was "no better than his fathers". Elijah was basically just plain tired. Doing the will of God was not easy and then suffering deep fear and the threat of death because of it was just too much. Elijah sat down under a broom tree in the desert and prayed for death. The burdens of life were too heavy, not worth it and he just gave up. Why bother any more when I do what God wants and suffer anyway? Elijah gave up on life but God did not give up on Elijah. An angel of God brought hope and renewed energy in the form of bread and water and Elijah was able to get up to continue his journey even without knowing the final destination. He was given just enough to keep on keeping on. Despite his fear he was moving closer to his own personal encounter with his God whom he was trying to serve.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is not afraid but he is experiencing the hostility and rejection of the very people he has just so abundantly fed. Jesus is trying to move the Jews beyond the desire for food that would satisfy their physical need, but returns daily to the realization that their fundamental hunger is for the food that provides life in unity with God. And Jesus, the incarnation of the great I AM, names himself as that food. Despite the miracles they have witnessed accomplished through Jesus, this assertion of his identity with God defies comprehension and they turn away.
Many people today are just plain tired. Men and women who have tried to live a good life are worn down struggling with joblessness, financial worries, medical issues, concerns about the future of their children, their parents and their own retirement. They are hungry for an inner peace and some sense of security about the future. For many, the fear and weariness can just be overwhelming. The temptation is to give up and just live for death, to run from the struggle and take refuge in drink or drugs or anger and bitterness. There is no answer that will bring in cash or provide absolute certainty about the future no matter how prayerful one might be. Maybe to only answer is ultimately to give oneself over to the incomprehensible and to keep on keeping on knowing and believing that Jesus, the incarnate God, is with us in the struggle.
Cathy Anthony is on the staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.