God’s love is a forest in which we tend to get lost. Upon entry we’re amazed by its beauty, but just as we eventually take our loved ones for granted, we tend to get used to immersion in love. We can no longer see that forest for all the miracles surrounding us every day. These are mostly little blessings that make our lives worth living, but gradually we become inured to them. Then, when we get ourselves into trouble, we feel as though God has abandoned us.
The prophet Elijah gives us an example of this syndrome in this Sunday’s first reading (1 Kgs 19:4-8). He wanders from God’s forest into the desert, and after a day’s journey, he’s ready to give up. He finds a broom tree, sits under its shade and says:
“This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
He found a tree in the desert, for crying out loud. That alone was a blessing. Then he falls asleep—another blessing. To top all these miracles off, upon waking, he finds a hearth cake and water—and an angel to serve him! This happens not once, but twice. The angel then advises him to let these blessings make him stronger for what God wants him to do.
“Then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.”
Once Elijah’s thirst was quenched and his hunger sated, his vision was laser-focused on his mission—to spread his vision. But as we see in our gospel reading (Jn 6:41-51), the people of succeeding generations never lost their tendency to take God’s love for granted—even when God was physically in their midst, in the person of Jesus. The locals not only got used to having Jesus around, but their familiarity bred contempt.
“Do we not know his father and mother?,” they murmured among themselves. “Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus recognizes this murmuring for what it was—not just an inability to recognize God’s presence in their lives, but, like Elijah, forgetfulness about how to reconnect with it. Just as God’s angel reminded Elijah, Jesus gives these people a quick lesson:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.”
In our second reading (Eph 4:30—5:2), Paul addresses our tendency to lose sight of God’s loving presence and then to fail. We fail to recognize that presence within us and to share it with others. Among our many other failings, these are the only ones that can cause God to grieve.
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with which you were sealed for the day of redemption,” he tells the Ephesians. “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
These trees of wisdom should make the Kingdom of God more visible to you every day.