The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
August 9, 2015
I’m sure that many of us here today have heard someone say, at one time or another, “Mass is soooo boring.” Maybe we’ve even been guilty of saying this ourselves. I find this fascinating though, because on every level Mass is the exact opposite of boring. I mean, objectively speaking, the Mass truly and really makes the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary present to us in the here and now…decidedly not boring. And objectively speaking, Jesus joins us to His Sacrifice and offers us, along with Himself, to the Father, effecting the redemption and salvation of the human race…again, decidedly not boring. Now we can admit that if we’re not in-tune to these spiritual realities, if we’re not preparing ourselves for Mass and praying throughout the week, then these objective realities will be lost on us and we could – God forbid! – slip into boredom. But what baffles me is that the same generation of people who are entertained for hours by TV shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Real Housewives of New Jersey can be bored stiff when reading and listening to Scripture at Mass. I’ll go on record saying that Scripture, especially the Old Testament, is filled with more intrigue, juicy drama, and entertainment than anything you’ll find on TLC or HBO. And to prove it, all we have to do is look at our first reading today from the First Book of Kings.
So we start off by hearing that the Prophet Elijah is having a rough day…he’s thrown himself under a tree and starts huffing and puffing and bellyaching, telling God that he’s had enough, that he can’t go on, and that he just wants to die. After essentially crying himself to sleep, an angel wakes him up and gives him some food – a hearth cake and a jug of water. Nothing like a nap and a snack to chase grumpiness away, right? Well, not for Elijah. He’s still moping, so he just goes back to bed. The angel wakes him back up, gives him more food, and then tells him to snap out of it and that he better get his act together. Elijah acquiesces, and with a stomach full of hearth cakes, starts off to Horeb to get back to work doing prophet things. It’s a short little story, apparently pretty boring, but it’s what happened to Elijah right before that makes this all the more juicy and interesting. You see, Elijah has just come from the Kishon River where he had just finished slaughtering 450 prophets of the false god Baal. The King of Israel – Ahab – married a woman who dabbled with Baal worship – Jezebel – and needless to say she’s none-too-happy with Elijah. She sent a message to him that basically said, “You better run, because I’m coming after you.” Fearful for his life, Elijah fled Israel and headed south to Beer-sheba in Judah. Exhausted and frightened, he feels he can no longer continue, and this is where we find him in our first reading today. Once we know the rest of the story, we can garner up a little more pity and understanding for Elijah’s mental breakdown underneath the tree. But for me, the most interesting part of this whole story is one boring, seemingly insignificant thing: the hearth cake. When Elijah was at his worst, when he was in the midst of emotional, physical, and spiritual exhaustion, it was the hearth cake that restored his strength and essentially brought him back to life. He didn’t have a long session with his therapist…he wasn’t given a convincing pep talk by someone…he literally just ate some hearth cakes. A seemingly boring, tasteless piece of bread – which anyone might turn their noses up to – became the source of new life for the devastated Elijah. Things are not always as they seem.
The bread that nourished Elijah underneath the broom tree should be a lesson for us. He could have easily told the angel who brought him the hearth cakes to get lost and to bring something that would actually help him in his distress. But he didn’t…he got up, ate the mundane bread, and it changed his life. If we’re looking for the spectacular and the obvious to give us life; if we’re looking for the fun and the exciting and the entertaining to make us whole…then, at the end of the day, we’re going to end up starving to death underneath our own broom trees. Until we dare to see that some of the simplest and most boring things in this life are so often used by God to accomplish the most amazing and extraordinary things, then we’re doomed to become victims of devastation as we wait for the spectacular to save us. Elijah shows us that sometimes, often times, the answer to life’s biggest problems can be found by just eating some bread.
Those of us here, however, have a leg up on Elijah. We know something that he did not know. The bread that he consumed and that gave him life is a wonderful foreshadowing of the true Bread of Life that Christ would give to us in the Holy Eucharist. In the most unassuming and unobvious way, under the appearance of boring bread and uninteresting wine, the God of the universe gives us His own Flesh and Blood. When we are fatigued, when we are lost, when we are devastated, when it seems as if we have lost it all, there rests before us the very means by which we can be restored, not just to fullness of life, but to eternal life. Like Elijah’s hearth cakes, the gift of the Eucharist is not flashy or mesmerizing or ostentatious…it is so beautifully simple, and for this reason it is so easy to overlook or even to deny.
In our Gospel today, Jesus is continuing to teach and to prepare the crowds for the gift of the Eucharist. He tells them that He is the Living Bread that has come down from Heaven and that everyone who eats this Bread will live forever. And the response? Unbelief…they don’t believe a word He’s saying. They murmur amongst themselves about the stupidity of such a thing – their eyes and their ears are closed…their hearts are hardened. They want an obvious and great Messiah who, with sword in hand, will free them from their Roman oppressors…they have no use for some sap Who will die on a Cross, free them from sin, and be their Living Bread. In the Gospel we’ll hear next week, Jesus will lay it all out for them one last time, and by the following week we will hear of their final rejection. Unable and unwilling to believe, they will reject Him and walk away. Much to their chagrin, the boring and uninteresting man from Nazareth that they would reject is the true and only salvation of the world...and if they had listened to His words and feasted upon the Bread He was offering them, they too could have shared in the extraordinary gift of eternal life.
So, is Mass boring? Compared to most other things in this life, yes; it won’t give you a physical thrill like a roller coaster or an emotional buzz like young love…it won’t excite you like the new car you bought and it won’t entertain you like Netflix. But the Mass can, like the bread Elijah ate, change your life unlike anything else. What appears to be a boring old ritual is really the most amazing thing this side of heaven…and what appears to be ordinary bread and wine is really God Himself. Today we have to ask ourselves: will we be the like crowds who move from spectacle to spectacle, waiting for the next great flashy thing to satisfy us…or will we be like Elijah and eat the simple hearth cake that has been placed before us?