Sometimes some people do not want to eat, not because they’re not hungry, but because they have lost their will to live.
This is the kind of situation that we have in our first reading today. The prophet Elijah has lost his will to live. He is the last surviving Israelite prophet but he is tired of being pursued relentlessly by the ruling authorities.
The author tells us the prophet went a day’s journey into the desert and sat beneath a tree and PRAYED FOR DEATH. There is a word for this kind of mental health condition in modern psychology: DEPRESSION.
When people feel as if a heavy dark cloud has enveloped them, when they find themselves in a kind of no-way-out situation, when they feel like there is nothing more to wake up for and nothing to look forward to, they begin to make a DEATH WISH. Because they feel that they do not even have enough energy and strength to take their own life, they ask God to do it for them. Elijah says it in prayer, “TAKE MY LIFE, LORD.”
But the story tells us after praying, he lay down and fell asleep. I take that as a good sign. In reality, those who are suffering from depression are usually unable to sleep. The author tells us an angel wakes him up afterwards and gives him food and tells him to eat. He obeys but he goes straight back to sleep afterwards. But the angel does not leave him. He lets him sleep but wakes him up again after a while and orders him to eat some more so he could carry on with his journey to Mount Horeb. The Lord knows when to send such angels into our lives just to keep us going.
It is when he reached the mountain and encountered the Lord there that Elijah actually received the real food that he needed most—the WILL TO LIVE. After doing something of a debriefing before the Lord, he regains his sense of mission and purpose as a prophet.
This is a good description of what many people are going through in this time of pandemic, especially those who have lost their loved ones and others who have lost their jobs. For us Filipinos, a job is not just a means for earning money. We call it “HANAP-BUHAY,” meaning, a quest for life; it is LIFE we are looking for.
This is actually also implied in the English expression “making a living” or “finding a means of livelihood.” We work, not just to eat and keep ourselves alive. More importantly, we work to keep our loved ones alive. It is one of the most important duties of parents, TO PROVIDE for the family. That is probably the reason why those who work to provide food for the family are literally called: “breadwinners.”
This is the greater kind of satisfaction that people who love get to discover at some point in their life. They find out that there is greater joy in providing than in being provided for, perhaps another way of saying there is GREATER JOY IN GIVING THAN IN RECEIVING.
Remember that scene of the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4? Remember what Jesus said to his disciples when they returned to give him food and found him talking to the Samaritan woman? He said, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
It goes the same way with parents; even when they’re hungry, they would rather feed their children first and just eat up what is left over. When the children are embarrassed that there is almost nothing left for their mother to eat, often the mother would even humor them and say, “Seeing you satisfied is enough satisfaction for me.” It sounds dramatic but it is true, and most parents say it.
This is something that children get to understand only when they become parents themselves. Most children usually take for granted the good things that they receive for free at home. Some of them even have the gall to whine or complain when their whims are not immediately granted. They develop a sense of entitlement that is hopefully eventually replaced by a genuine sense of gratitude as they grow up.
When the time comes that children become parents themselves and begin to raise their own children, when they begins to experience the hard work and all the sacrifice that it takes to provide for their own families, it is then that they get to realize what their parents had been through. Sometimes they find themselves running back to their parents, trying to make up with them awkwardly, feeling sorry that they had not been more expressive of their gratitude for all the love, care and sacrifice that they had taken for granted all these years.
Sometimes they just silently look at their parents and get overwhelmed by a sense of appreciation for them. It is then that they realize that what truly nurtured them into decent human beings was not just literal food but the blood, sweat and tears of their parents. When they begin to do it themselves for their own children, it is then that they are truly awakened to what the home really is about: a school for love. And they find themselves doing what lovers willingly do for their beloved; they give up their lives for them.
It is then that people usually discover their sense of mission and purpose. That life is more than just about staying alive; that more importantly, it is about giving life. It is no longer just about eating but about feeding with one’s own blood, sweat and tears and finding a greater happiness in it. It is what we call a EUCHARISTIC LIFE.
St. Paul tell the Corinthian community in our second reading today that this is what they need to learn from Christ, along with being kind, compassionate and forgiving. He says they must learn “to live in love as Christ has loved us and handed himself over as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.”
This is what we eat at the Eucharist: the bread and the wine that we truly believe to be the flesh and blood of the one who gave up his life for our redemption. We relish this food and we allow ourselves to be transformed by it, SO THAT WE CAN BECOME WHAT WE EAT. This is what we say in that beautiful song that we sing at communion:
“To be your bread now, be your wine now, Lord, come and change us to be a sign of your love.
Blest and broken, poured and flowing, gift that you gave us, to be your body once again.”
Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 8, 2021, John 6:41-51