Jesus nourishes our hungry hearts
A reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
by Ken Canedo
Mark, a friend whom I sponsored for Confirmation, was a freshman at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and we stayed in touch by telephone. He shared with me his excitement about being in college and the independent atmosphere at this coastal town, where he enjoyed surfing the waves in the early morning.
“And now I’m a vegetarian,” Mark told me one day. “You should try it, Ken!”
I chuckled to myself as I remembered how much Mark enjoyed a juicy steak and hamburgers at home with his family when he was a teenager. I couldn’t picture this tall and athletic young man letting go of meat. But he kept trying to persuade me to go veggie myself.
“Tell you what,” I said. “Lent is coming up. I’ll give up meat for the holy season and let you know on Easter week how I’m doing.” I accepted Mark’s challenge. After all, Lent was only six weeks. I could always go back to eating meat when this self-imposed penance was over.
That was in 1984, over thirty-seven years ago. I’ve been vegetarian ever since and have never regretted it. Thank you, Mark!
At first, it was difficult to let go of meat. It seemed like I was hungry all the time, so I did a lot of reading on alternative protein sources. But the most challenging experience was the way my newfound vegetarianism affected my circle of friends when I visited them for dinner or when we went out to eat. I could order my own entrée at a restaurant, but I noticed I was eventually receiving fewer invitations for dinner at friends’ homes. Apparently, the novelty of a vegetarian guest was too much for some cooks to grasp. That has happily changed over time as more people have come to realize that vegetarianism is primarily a call to eat more simply. Increasing numbers of people have embraced that philosophy.
Food was simple during the time of Jesus. With no supermarkets, the next meal was dependent on the farming, fishing, or hunting skills of the family. If the weather was bad or if they were unable to produce a dinner, at least there would be bread, baked with ingredients from the earth. Bread satisfied their hunger and was a source of strength and nourishment. And when crowds of people followed Jesus to hear his powerful preaching and seek healing, they evidently lost track of time, so enamored were they of this miracle worker. As we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus fed them – five thousand in number! Through the miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus took care of their earthly needs for the day.
And they wanted more! They asked him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert.” He just gave them a sign, but it wasn’t enough. They wanted more! Jesus then used that as an entrée into one of his most misunderstood teachings: he revealed himself
as the Bread of Life. The people were physically hungry. But Jesus knew they were spiritually starving.
“I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
The crowd wanted the kind of food that would satisfy their physical hunger and perhaps even alleviate the daily chore of fishing and cooking. Jesus was offering them something else entirely, something beyond their expectations, something eternal. And they didn’t quite get it. They weren’t on the same page or, rather, at the same dinner table.
How often do we try to tailor Jesus’ message to fit into our own agenda, what WE want to hear? We need to let go and truly listen to what Jesus is teaching us. HE is the bread of life! He invites us to come to him, with no preconditions or expectations. We will not hunger or thirst with Jesus! What does that mean to you?
For me, there has been a restlessness in my heart since the pandemic locked us down. I work hard to be self-reliant, but COVID made me realize that I do not have the delusional control that I think I have. As the Bread of Life, only Jesus can fill my soul and lead me out of the world’s limitations to a life beyond what I can see or hear or touch – or taste. Help me, Lord Jesus, to live simply for you.
The readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, are
Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15, 31a
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
Ken Canedo is an author and composer whose liturgical music has been published in various hymnals and missals since 1978. His articles have appeared in
Today’s Liturgy and
Ministry & Liturgy. He is the author of two books on the history of contemporary Catholic music: Keep the Fire Burning and From Mountains High. He is longtime pastoral musician at Holy Trinity Church in Beaverton, Oregon.