Readings: 2 Kgs 4:42-44; 1 Kgs 19:4-8
I love stories that capture the personality of God. We begin with a story from the Second Book of Kings which was in the lectionary a couple weeks ago. The story is the loaves and the fishes but in the time of Elisha. Elisha commands a man with twenty barley loaves to feed a hundred people. The man asks how that’s possible and Elisha prophesies that there will be some left over. And there was.
If we jump to the current Sunday (the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time) we read another story in the First Book of Kings about Elijah (with a J) who, after a long journey through the desert, comes to sit beneath a tree. He had just had a fight with the prophets of the god of Baal. Elijah won on behalf of the true God but Jezebel, the queen of the land, was angered so she said she would get back at him. Elijah was frightened and worn out. Under the tree he prayed to God to take his life. He’d have no more of this. After falling asleep an angel of God awoke him and told him to eat the food that had appeared before him so he would have strength for his journey.
Take note of the deliberate kindness God gives to his people. How often has the journey been long and hard for you where you’re just about to give up and someone or something comes through giving relief? Elijah could have given up halfway through his journey, or begged God to take his life earlier, but he persisted. It was then, when Elijah was sleeping, when he least expected it, that God came through with food for the journey. In 2 Kings Elisha sees the left over loaves after a small amount fed a multitude of people. With God there are always left overs. One wonders in that story where the leftovers went. Perhaps there were others, without food, who benefited. How often do we feel lacking but come to find that there’s always something extra that gets us through.
I’ve spoken to homeless people on the streets who tell me time and time again that God comes through for them. Though by the eve of the day they have little change in their cup, not enough for a sandwich, some how they always end up with enough. The best part is that they don’t curse God for their situation. They thank God for coming through when they least expect it. This kind of providing God freely gives is something worth reflecting on. Our God pursues us with offerings that are nourishing and helpful for the journey.
Jesus is the incarnation of this God. In fact, he calls himself “the bread of heaven”. There Jesus is referring to an eternal nourishment, but this is exactly the kind of thing God offers us. God provides in practical ways on earth but also provides eternal life and friendship with him. This kind of love is the kind of love Saint Ignatius has retreatants meditate on in the Spiritual Exercises’ Contemplation to Attain Love (or Contemplatio). The meditation helps the pray-er recognise the tremendous ways God ceaselessly gives and gives and in the end the gift is our becoming one with the divine. Paul Coutinho, SJ says,
Not only do you and God become one, but also everything is seen as a manifestation of the Divine. You look at a tree and see God and experience God. It is a manifestation of the Divine. It is the presence of the Divine that makes a tree a tree. It is a miracle.
God provides you with shelter and people who care about you and food and clothes. But God gives God’s very self to us in a way that allows us to share in God’s divinity. With that we need nothing more. It’s appropriate to end with Saint Ignatius’ take and receive prayer which reminds us that the only gift we really require is God’s love and grace:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.
>> Read Paul Coutinho, SJ’s reflection on the Contemplation to Attain Love.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod