*Note – I made an error in the sequence of the Prophet Elijah’s story – he flees from Jezebel after the showdown with her Baalist priests – our first reading takes place after this event, and God ministers to him and feeds him with cakes of bread and drink. Apologies for my mistake: Please seen the Book of Kings for the whole story, it’s a good read 🙂
Transcript of “Flesh & Blood” – 19th Sunday OT 2015
And today, in our Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus continues to teach us that He is the bread that comes down from heaven. He’s flesh. He’s blood; living flesh, living blood. His body, blood, soul and divinity, feeds us, frees us and brings us into…one day, into life in heaven with our Heavenly Father. Now, this is the good news. This is the Gospel that is shared, that Christ brings freedom. Christ brings liberation from sin. Christ brings new life despite darkness and death in the world. So this is the good news, and we’ve heard this again and again. We have to also recognize that there also was some bad news, okay?
I want to contrast these two different times; the time before Christ and the time now with Christ. But also, the time before Christ, and also now, the post-Christ period we have in our culture, in our world. So I’m going to just share with you some of the history. And we heard it in the first reading, the greatest of the prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah. Just to give you a little bit of context. And it will help you understand the depth of the meaning when Christ talks about His offering of Himself, flesh and blood, to bring us to new life.
Elijah was the greatest prophet, as I mentioned. And during this time, it’s written in the book of Kings. So this is centuries before Jesus’ coming. The king has apostatized from the true faith. That means that he started to worship foreign gods and move away from the commandments of Moses and the faith of Abraham. And he leads the Israelite people away from God. He marries this princess, this Jezebel, who becomes the queen of Israel.
She is the leading reason why, along with the king, they eradicate the old faith, the traditional practices and sacrifices to Yahweh, the teachings of the commandments, and they reinstitute a new age spirituality, let’s call it, which is really an old age. And it’s the worship of this foreign god, and we would believe to be a demon or even the devil himself. His name is Bael or Baal, B-A-A-L. They started to kill off all the priests and the prophets of the old law, and they started to reinstitute this pagan practices.
Now, on first glance, and today, too, we often have this with Christians and Catholics. We say, “Well, it’s spirituality. It’s different spirituality.” Ironically even the name Baal, and the way they worshiped him, Baal was this god who was their father. And he required sacrifice and blood to be appeased. Baal was this father, protector of the people. Before even the Israelites were in the land, the people in Palestine, they would’ve worshiped him and offered different sacrifices.
And at first glance, you might say… As a Christian or a student of scripture, you might say, “That sounds an awful lot like our God, an awful lot like Yahweh, who requires sacrifice, and so forth, for communion.” And a lot of the Israelites went that way. Just like today, a lot of people say, “Well, its spirituality. We basically believe the same things. I’m not religious. I’m spiritual.” Right? Well, the problem with that is the devil is also spiritual, okay?
A lot of people that are deviling [SP], in new age spirituality, or the Israelites even 20,800 years ago, were going to a lot of old age practices, but we often get it repackaged again and again. So in the context of this, all the Israelites were apostatizing. The priests, the prophets, were killed. And Elijah, despairing almost, flees away from the evil, Jezebel, who wants to put him to death. He is at the point where he says, “I’m the last of your prophets. I just want to die. I give up.”
He goes off for 40 days. Forty days should stick out in your mind on this journey. Just like the journey, the Israelites through the desert, where God fed them with manna. And what does God do? He says, “Do not despair. I’m with you. I’ll protect you.” And He feeds him with bread. It says cake, but it’s bread, okay? Bread and water. And He sustains him. And after being replenished by bread, the bread of the angels, the bread that comes down from heaven, Elijah has the strength to go back and fight the Baal, the Baalists.
Now, this is an awesome story. I love Bible history, by the way. So I’m giving you lots of good details here. As you probably don’t hear this very often, it doesn’t come up in our Sunday, new revised lectionary, where we try to make it sound nicer and all that, but it’s part of scripture, and we hear it during the weekday readings. Elijah goes back and confronts Jezebel’s minions. Okay? Yes, they’re minions. All the priests that were formally of Yahweh were these new priests and priestesses of this new religion.
And he sort of has a priest showdown. It’s a shootout, okay? There is Elijah, the last of the priests of Yahweh, then there’s this thousands of Baalists. And the Baalists, so they have this wager, almost, where Elijah says, “Okay. You pray to your god, to this demon, Baal, and I’m going to pray to the true God of the people.” And everybody’s watching. Tens of thousands of people are gathered on this hill, and there’s this sacrifice in the middle.
So the Baalists start, and they do the practices that are emblematic. They are symptoms of most devil worship and demonic things. You might need earmuffs if the little kids can understand this. They would mutilate their flesh. They cut themselves, offer blood sacrifices, right? They would often sacrifice human beings, especially children. This is what the Baalists did to appease this god, Baal. And nothing happens. The sacrifice stays there in the center of all this silly liturgical dancers here running around.
And he says, “Well, maybe your god is sleeping. Maybe shout louder. Maybe cut off some more of your flesh.” Right? “Maybe then, he’ll wake up.” And they go dance around for all morning and nothing happens. The people see this. Then Elijah says, “Okay, it’s my turn now.” So he gets up, and he puts the 12 stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel that had gone astray, around this sacrifice, this ox. Then he offers a prayer to God, and he takes water, representing the Red Sea and the crossing through of the Jordan into the Promised Land, and most especially, foreshadowing the baptism to come.
What he does with the water, he pours it. Not once, not twice, but three times and prays to the true God. Then fire comes and consumes the sacrifice, and the people say what? “The Lord Yahweh is the true God.” And they kill all the bad Baalist priests, and the people are liberated from this evil. Okay. That’s Bible history in a nutshell, an interesting story that you need to hear.
So we see that before the good news of Christ, who liberates us from sin and evil, we see the bad news of a world consecrated and given over to the evil one, to say that. And his accompanying signs are always this. What does the want from us and those that dabble in the spiritual works of evil? What does the devil want? He’s wanted it since the beginning. He wants us to die. He wants blood. He wants us to give up our lives, to kill our brothers, to kill the innocent.
This is what the devil wants. And often, we give it to him. And you say, “Oh, 3000 years ago? We don’t do that anymore. We don’t brutalize children. We don’t abuse children. We don’t do these things.” Yeah, we do. It’s called abortion. It’s called child abuse. It’s called pornography. All the different pernicious things that are reaping us away from our love of God, and using the people and the flesh of this world, to please no one except for Satan.
It’s a tough word, and I don’t say it every week. If you’re visiting, I don’t preach about the devil every week, but once a year. Okay? But it is a pernicious offering. As opposed to the sweet offering of Christ, it is a sweet offering to the evil one. And it’s reaping apart our culture. Its reaping apart our lives away from God. So that’s the bad news, okay? And if I left it at that, you would walk away very sad. Well, now we can read with new eyes, new lens, the good news of Christ’s liberation from the evil.
So upon the Bread of Life Discourse, He says, “Unlike the bread your ancestors ate in the desert,” like that Moses brought, that wafer-thin substance on the dew. And they had bread in the morning, they had flesh. They had quail in the evening, bread and flesh. Unlike even the bread that has fed Elijah so he could destroy the power of evil at work amongst the people of God, “I am the true bread that comes down from heaven.” And then He goes on and He says, “My bread is flesh for the world.”
So unlike the unholy sacrifices, the offerings of the old, Jesus undoes the work of the evil one, undoes the work of corrupt men and women’s hearts. He offers Himself to reconcile us to the true God and Father, our Lord. Ironically the highest point with the devil looking on, of Jesus as the son… Remember how the devil always wants the death of God’s children, God’s sons and daughters? Well, the true son of God is put to death. The devil thinking in his mind, “I’ve won.” And he is conquered. His head is destroyed by Christ’s offering.
And again and again, we are presented with the offering of Jesus as the flesh and blood, for us, in this Eucharist. Now, in the story, when Jesus is talking in the Gospel of John, this is chapter six, He talks about how, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you cannot have eternal life.” So the evil one wants death, God wants life for us. But He says, “You have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” At first, the people grumbled. Many of them were disturbed by this image, rightly so. And they start to complain. And what happens?
At first, he says, “eat.” And the Greek word that the New Testament has written is, the Greek word is “phagein.” And it’s the way human beings eat. I come to your house, we sit down, and we “phagein” it up. We dine. Okay? And they get upset, and they say, “This must be some sort of symbol. Can you explain it?” And what does Jesus say? He says, “Amen, Amen,” or “Truly, I say to you.” He intensifies His language and now uses the word “trogein.” And “trogein” is the word that would be used to describe how animals eat.
Like the coyotes out behind my house in Saint-Front, they “trogein” the flesh of animals. They devour it. They drink in the blood, right? Now, Jesus says, “Amen, Amen, unless you devour my flesh, drink in my blood, you cannot inherit eternal life.” And they go crazy in the bad way. And in chapter 6 verse 66-, Okay, that’s somewhat of a coincidence. But 6-6-6, they all leave Jesus. Jesus was raising people from the dead. He was delivering us from demons and from the evil one. He was healing the sick. He just fed them with bread and fishes, loaves.
They wanted to make Him king. And then He teaches this teaching, the most central doctrine that has been defended and blood has been spilled over for 2000 years up until our [inaudible 00:12:31], that you have to eat my flesh and blood, and they all go away. “This is a tough teaching,” they said. “This is a harsh teaching. We cannot abide by it.” And what happens? I can only imagine, but Jesus with broken heart.
Seeing all those people, those sheep without a shepherd, He has now brought them together, and they have left Him. He turns back to His apostles. He turns back to Peter and says, “Are you going to abandon me, too, because of this?” And what does Peter say? And he’s been saying it through the church and through you since this episode. He doesn’t understand what’s going on. He doesn’t understand how the Eucharist is going to sacramentally allow this to happen. But Peter says, “Lord, where else can we go? Only you have the words of eternal life.”
Peter professed this, but we profess it every time we come to the Eucharist. The teaching that Jesus is truly, substantially body, blood, soul and divinity, present in the Eucharist. That he feeds us with not dead flesh, but living flesh and blood that sustains us, that feeds us. This is a tough teaching, but it is the truth. It is the truth that’s brought us freedom, that’s brought us deliverance from death, from evil.
And it’s also the profession of faith you make every time you come to the mass. You don’t come for the music or the homily or how awesome, wicked awesome, the priest is, right? You come for Christ, who feeds us with flesh and blood, who is present in this place.