Reading 1: 1 Kings 19:4-8
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 34
Reading 2: Ephesians 4:30-5:2
Gospel: John 6:41-51
As Christians, we are to “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.” When you live in a country where the president regularly insults individual citizens however, it is easy to forget this. Paul’s call to get rid of our “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling . . . along with all malice” and be “kind to one another, compassionate” sounds naïve, like a call to give in to the bullies of public discourse. Yet, this Sunday’s readings remind us that love is the true bread of life.
First, love, not hate, is at the core of our being. Love is “the bread of life”, something we need. It is a sense of belonging and acceptance, that people want us around and we would be missed if we were gone. Love is also something that we long to give to love others. Hate, insults, denigration of others, these can never leave us fulfilled. They cannot nourish us “like bread that comes down from heaven.” Instead, they leave us cold, unloving and unloved.
Second, love overcomes suffering and does not cause it. In seeking God, Elijah encounters depression, hunger, and thirst. “He prayed for death saying: ‘This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’” Yet, he gets up and walks for forty days and nights to meet God. Even before his crucifixion, Jesus faced skepticism and dismissal. As Jesus preached, the crowds murmured, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Far from overcoming suffering or showing compassion, bullying and insults expand its scope. People are hurt and, as a result, cut off more and more from feeling loved.
Finally, love expands beyond the self to care for others. Bullying, insults, they can make one feel better but only by tearing others down. Genuine love does the opposite. It builds up the self by building up others. As the psalmist sings about the God who is love, “the lowly will hear [God] and be glad,” “the afflicted man called out, the Lord heard, and from all his distress he saved him,” and “blessed the man who takes refuge in him.” The God who is love doesn’t demean humans to establish the divine greatness. Instead, God take on flesh and blood, lives in a humble state, pitches his tent among us, and gathers us in as a hen does her chicks. God’s dignity does not depend upon our humiliation but in our glorification. This is why the lowly and the afflicted cry out for joy in seeing God: they know that this love will lift them up, just as Jesus was lifted up.
Thus, as Christians, we must remember to “live in love.” We must resist insults and bullying wherever we find them, but we must do so with love that is the “true bread that comes down from heaven.”