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.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.
Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
What does it mean to say “faith is a gift”? In our first reading, Elijah is ready to give up on life, crying out to God. He is exhausted from running for his life into the desert. He falls asleep under a broom tree, a desert bush that must sink deep roots to reach water. In a dream Elijah is told to get up and eat; when he awakens he finds at his side unexpected cake and water. He falls asleep again, and is encouraged again to eat and drink. Then, and only then, is he ready to continue his journey to the mountain of God.
The ‘gift of faith’ is not a carrot-on-a-stick reward that leads us to God — rather, faith is the eyes to see God’s laboring presence, even in our desert experiences. Elijah’s story reminds us that God has been faithfully sustaining and feeding us in light of — and in spite of — the circumstances of our lives. God offers Elijah renewal and refuge under a tree, and provides him strength to continue his journey to God. But even Elijah needs a second reminder.
What, and who, has fed and sustained you in the desert experiences of life?
—Fr. Joe Simmons, SJ, is a priest of the Midwest Province and a proud alumnus of Marquette University High School and Marquette University. He begins doctoral studies in theology and literature at the University of Oxford in October.
Good and gracious God, you offer us the gift of faith and then encourage and sustain that gift throughout our lives. When we feel despondent, exhausted, or ready to give up, strengthen our faith so that we may continue on our journey to you. Amen.
—The Jesuit Prayer team