As we listen to the first lesson this morning, we could easily have been impressed — and I think should have been impressed — by how God was careful to watch over the prophet Elijah. We can consider this lesson perhaps as a prefiguring of what Jesus does in the Gospel. God nurtures and feeds God’s people, but this is even more of a revelation of that. It’s not just a prefiguring of the Gospel. This incident is a way of showing who God is that is very clear, reassuring and consoling for us.
We will only understand that fully if we get the context of what was happening here. Elijah the prophet had been preaching against King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. He condemned them, and he, in fact, had entered into a contest with their prophets, who were paid by the king. He had defeated them, and because of that, he was hated. So he fled, but what we don’t understand at first as we listen to this is that he was fleeing away from God. He was afraid for what he had done, so he was headed south to Mount Sinai.
God had called him to preach to the people in the northern kingdom, and he was going exactly the wrong way. He was going against God’s will, doing something wrong, and yet, look how God watches over him. As he begins to become hungry and thirsty and is just ready to give up and die, God sees that he is fed and nurtured. God’s love is unconditional and never limited. Here, the prophet is defying God, and yet, at that very moment, God is watching over him with great love and tenderness.
That’s a part of God that we worship. It’s the God that Jesus preaches so clearly. If we turn to our Gospel lesson, we will see that this teaching is made very clear in what Jesus says today. “I am the Bread come down from Heaven.” That disturbed those who were listening. “Who does He think He is? He didn’t come from Heaven. He is the son of Joseph and Mary. We know Him.” Jesus insists. “I am the Bread come down from Heaven.” Now, in the Jewish tradition, bread from Heaven and being fed by God, really means being nurtured, not just in our bodies, but that bread from Heaven is really the teaching of God…