Tumbling in the Sand
“But he himself 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.'” – 1 Kings 19:4
Most of the commentaries these days are focusing on bread—and Jesus (claiming the divine title, “I am”) as the bread of life, the food that gives and sustains life. But I am struck by the kinds of things that we tend to turn to for life that don’t actually sustain us, that are also reflected on (or used as foils) in these texts. In last week’s texts, Jesus suggested that bread, food itself, while necessary for life, is not what gives and sustains life—at least not abundant life.
We get that in this culture: we have long ago discovered (or at least we sort of know this) that food in the right amount keeps us alive and healthy, but more food does not equal more life—in fact, too much food and we kill ourselves early with all of those diseases associated with obesity. Instead, the gospel argues (and the Hebrew text from last week also suggests) that a life sustained by the I AM (the true bread from heaven) is a life that has enough and never craves more. That is not to say that we should deny our need for food (no, God feeds the hungry Israelites in the desert) or that we should not enjoy food (God gave us taste buds and filled the earth with delights), but rather our focus is in the wrong place (and we are wasting our lives) if we are looking for life and abundance in the food that we eat—or for that matter, any of the other things we consume and crave after rather than the “I am.”
This week’s texts seem to be all about bringing up the ancestors. And it doesn’t really seem to be in a great sort of way. Obviously, our lives owe much to our ancestors: we are, to a great degree, the result of their lives and witness. Our lives are inexplicably entangled with them and in some ways, you could think that our ancestors are the source of our lives. I’m sure many of us (if we didn’t hear it from our own mother) have heard of the mother that said to her child in a moment of exasperation, “I brought you into this world, I can take you out again!”
But these texts suggest that ancestors do not give life. In fact, in both the Hebrew text and the gospel text, ancestors are equated with death. Or at least being dead. Here Elijah suggests that God just end his life, for he is “no better than [his] ancestors” (who are already dead) and Jesus tells the non-understanding, grouchy crowds, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” I wonder if the texts are suggesting that there is no life in trying to be like the past, no life in trying to duplicate what the ancestors did (like waiting for someone who can call manna from heaven, for instance), no life in trying to keep the past alive. Instead, again, it’s about God and God’s provisions for today that lead us to truly abundant, everlasting life. The texts call us not to look back to keep the past alive, but rather to look upward, outward, and forward so that not only will we receive abundant life in the living bread from heaven, but that even though we die (just like our ancestors), we will live.