The authors of Scripture would have appreciated the late Charles Kuralt's "On the Road" series. As followers of God, they experienced faith as a road to be traveled, not as an object to be captured. Every day was a "birth" day.

They were always on a journey, always exploring new paths, always discovering new ways to look at people, always taking up new causes, always receiving new insights, always relying on God to tell them in which direction to go. Inspired and led by faith, our Sacred Writers frequently found themselves "off" organized religion's map.

Like all who take to the road, people of faith must learn how to deal with the unexpected. They have to abandon the security of inaction and become comfortable with the unpredictable.

Way of love

The Ephesians, for instance, didn't now what would happen if they followed Paul's advice to "never have grudges against others, or lose your temper, or raise your voice to anybody, or call each other names or allow any sort of spitefulness" (Eph 4:30-5:2). They knew what would happen if they did the opposite. No matter how bad, at least the results were predictable. But they weren't certain what to expect if they set out on the rarely traveled road of forgiveness, just as they hadn't known what to expect when they first started to "follow the way of love."

Many people need lots of predictability in their lives. They sell the camper, put down roots and cancel their AAA membership. That's why the authors of Scripture are convinced that it takes a special personality to value life on the road, to rejoice in the discoveries of everyday life and to rely totally on God.

Knowing we need both moral strength and psychological support to start and maintain such a journey, Jesus promises that all who are willing "to come to Him" will receive food for the road (Jn 6:41-51). He'll give us "bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat it and not die." And we'll never have to worry about that food running out. Jesus assures us, "I am the living bread."

When we listen to this discourse against the background of "coming to Jesus," we hear John telling his community that the Eucharist is food and drink for anyone who dares undertake such a journey. Those who never start down the road of faith have no hunger or thirst for the meal Jesus offers.

It's hard to find a better biblical journey narrative than Sunday's first reading about Elijah (1 Kgs 19:4-8). But, because our liturgical reading gives us only a small part of the account, we might not see the implications for our own faith journey.

Fleeing

The narrative begins in chapter 18, describing Elijah's confrontation with Jezebel's prophets of Ba'al on Mt. Carmel (in Israel's far north). Having won the face-off, Elijah puts his rivals to death, then starts running south to avoid the contract Jezebel has put out on him. He eventually reaches Beer-sheba (the southernmost spot in the Promised Land) and, totally worn-down, prays for death.

But instead of killing him, Yahweh sends an angel to give the prophet enough food and drink to enable him to step out into the Sinai and walk "forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb."

Yahweh finally communicates with Elijah when he reaches Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai), almost 300 miles southeast of Mt. Carmel. Speaking in a "tiny whispering sound," God asks the prophet, "Elijah, why are you here?" Then, after Elijah informs Yahweh about recent events, the Lord tells him, "Go, take the road back to the desert near Damascus!...When you arrive...you shall anoint Jehu...as king of Israel, and Elisha...as prophet to succeed you."

Glancing at a map of the Middle-East, you'll see Damascus is about 100 miles northeast of Mt. Carmel! Yahweh, by having an angel take care of Elijah, helped the prophet along the wrong road and helped him travel 500 miles out of the way he was supposed to go.

Contrary to non-biblical faith, the biblical authors believe that being on God's road is more important than actually going in the right direction. Once we convince ourselves of that, we'll have to create a new definition for success.

(08-07-97)