Lesson: 1 Kings 19:4-8
4 Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
The authors of the Book of Kings also wrote the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Samuel, usually called the “Deuteronomic History,” a didactic history of Ancient Israel from the time in the Wilderness (c. 1250 BCE) to the Babylonian Captivity in 587 BCE.
These books were given their final form around 500 BCE – long after the events they described. The authors used the stories to demonstrate that it was the failures of the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judea to worship YHWH properly and obey God’s commands that led to the conquest of Northern Israel in 722 BCE by the Assyrians and the conquest of Judea by the Babylonians in 597 BCE. (The conquests were not seen as the result of the Assyrians’ and Babylonians’ greater wealth and more powerful armies.)
Elijah and his successor, Elisha, were two of the great prophets (speakers for YHWH) in Jewish History. They opposed the (mostly) Baal-worshiping kings in Northern Israel for 90 years (from approximately 873 to 784 BCE), and their stories comprise about 40% of the Book of Kings. Elijah and Elisha are both credited with numerous healings, restoring people to life, and other extraordinary events involving food, such as the one recounted in today’s reading.
Just prior to today’s reading, Elijah invoked the power of YHWH to overcome the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel in the Northern part of Israel. He brought fire upon a huge sacrifice, rain to end a drought, and then killed all the prophets of Baal.
The evil King of Northern Israel at the time was Ahab (873-852) and his wife was the Baal-worshiping foreigner, Jezebel. After Elijah’s deeds, Jezebel swore to kill Elijah, so he ran away as far south in Israel as he could – first to Beer-sheba (about 100 miles) and then to the wilderness where he hoped to die. In today’s reading, YHWH’s angels provided food to Elijah, so he had strength to journey to Horeb and continue his ministry.
For the Deuteronomists, the holy mountain is called “Horeb” rather than Sinai. “Sinai” is the name of the holy mountain used by the authors of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. The location of the holy mountain in the Sinai Peninsula has never been determined.
Epistle: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
25 Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesus was a large and prosperous city in what is now western Turkey. In the Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians, Paul is said to have visited there. In Ephesus, there were Jesus Followers who were Jews and Jesus Followers who were Gentiles, and they did not always agree on what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Because the letter contained many terms not used in Paul’s other letters and gave new meanings to some of Paul’s characteristic terms, most scholars believe that this letter was written by one of Paul’s disciples late in the First Century. The letter was intended to unify the Jesus Follower community in Ephesus. The first three chapters are theological teachings, and the last three chapters consist of ethical exhortations.
Because of the verses just before today’s reading, this passage appears mostly directed at the Gentile Jesus Followers. The author urged them to put away falsehood, not speak evil of others, and to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and slander (v.4:31). He urged them live in love as Christ loved us. Describing Christ as a “fragrant sacrifice” (v.5:2) was a reference by the author to burnt offerings in the Hebrew Scriptures which are described as giving off an odor that was pleasing to YHWH, for example, Noah’s sacrifice in Gen. 8:21.
Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51
35 Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many of the stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who is described as “the Lamb of God”) died at the time lambs were being sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held that night.
Today’s reading begins with the closing verse of last week’s reading with Jesus asserting that he is the “Bread of Life.” (v.35) The “Jews” who complained (v.41) are the Temple Authorities and the Pharisees, not Jewish people generally. In verse 45a, Isaiah 54:13 is paraphrased – a portion of Isaiah of the Exile in which the prophet said that the Exiles would be taught by God and would be restored to Jerusalem.
The Fourth Gospel does not contain an Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Today’s reading is part of an extended discussion in which Jesus affirmed his relationship with the Father and asserted that – unlike manna in the desert — he is the Bread of Life that brings eternal life.
The Fourth Gospel is the most theologically dense of the four Gospels, and the theology of the Eucharist is one of the most challenging religious constructs for Christians to appreciate. To affirm that bread and wine are somehow transformed into the Body and Blood of The Christ requires a leap of faith. To affirm that ingesting the Body and Blood will transform us and put us in “common-union” with The Christ demands a leap of faith. To affirm that this union with The Christ opens us to “eternal life” (however understood) also is a faith statement.