Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 12 August 2012
1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:2-9; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51
Today’s Old Testament reading recounts a surprising turn in the story of Elijah, the great man of God. In earlier episodes, we’ve heard him fearlessly speak truth to power and watched as he trusted God to miraculously provide. He has just confronted the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, calling down fire from heaven and conclusively demonstrating the supremacy of Yahweh, the God of Israel. But even the great Elijah has a further journey to make. He has to discover God not only in the fire and earthquake and demonstrations of power, but in the voice of silence. In these verses he’s on the journey to that new insight. It is a journey he feels utterly incapable of making. He doesn’t even know at first that he is on a journey; it feels more like running away or crawling into a hole. But God provides him with food for the journey and his wanderings gradually crystallize into a retracing of the journey of the people of God through the wilderness under Moses, until he arrives again at Horeb, also called Sinai, the place of epiphany.
Psalm 34 is a thanksgiving psalm sung on the far side of chaos, after the journey through crisis to the point where we can testify to God’s goodness to us. I love these words: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord”. The experience is so real it is like we can taste it. It is impossible to hold in the gratitude and amazement – it just has to burst forth in thanksgiving. Elijah has a way to go yet before he gets there, but the food from the angel will sustain him in the meantime.
Jesus’ interlocutors are also on a journey, though some of them don’t quite realise it. It is a journey of learning to recognise the face of God in Jesus. They think they know Jesus – they have labelled and boxed him – “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, and don’t we know his father and mother?” They also think they know God. Like Elijah, they need to learn that their picture of God is not yet adequate. They have to be open to the journey, open to being disturbed and surprised. And that Jesus does for them in abundance. This enigmatic conversation rattles and confuses them but it does so as an invitation to growth.
Jesus invites us to be nourished by him, to discover in him the self-giving God who offers us life. We are to taste and see God’s goodness in Christ and let it transform us from the inside. It is perhaps inevitable that we imitate our image of God, or at least let it form the values which shape us. What kind of followers do we imagine for a God who is all power and might, earthquake, whirlwind and fire? But when we recognise God in the face of Jesus we begin to be shaped by love, to become kind, compassionate and forgiving. The Bread of Life nourishes us on our journey to Christ-likeness.