What exactly are we hungry for? Sunday reflection

What exactly are we hungry for? Sunday reflection

This morning’s Gospel reading is John 6:24–35:

When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”

So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” So they said to 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, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

What did we do on our summer vacation in 2021 — besides marvel at the fact that we could take a vacation? As some readers may have heard, we moved from Minnesota to central Texas. We had several reasons for this, primarily to deal with mobility issues — as my dad says, ain’t no one getting younger — and to put long, harsh winters behind us. The move has allowed us to own our own home, enjoy single-level living, and still have plenty of space from our neighbors.

One of the joys and stresses of a new environment is finding the food. Both of us are California natives who love Tex-Mex cuisine, and to put it politely, the options in the Upper Midwest were … limited. We now live in a much smaller community than the Twin Cities, so we’re finding other cuisine options a bit tougher to find, but there is an abundance of Tex-Mex, steakhouses, and barbecue. And that might be enough for now, frankly, although we’d love to find some good Italian and Chinese restaurants nearby. As we get to know where to look, we will undoubtedly find those options and more.

But even when our appetites for Tex-Mex are sated (and how), we know that’s not going to be enough. Even if we have excellent restaurants of all our favorite cuisines open in a one-mile radius around us, those kinds of appetites don’t lead to real fulfillment when momentarily satisfied. The more we focus on those kinds of temporal, material appetites, the further out of reach true fulfillment and happiness will be.

We learn these same lessons in today’s readings, first from Exodus and the from John’s Gospel. In our first reading, the Lord hears the grumblings of His people over their misery on the road. Rather than commit themselves wholeheartedly to His will, the Israelites complain about their lack of Tex-Mex — er, access to the “fleshpots of Egypt,” a nostalgia-drenched recollection of their slavery. The Lord eventually tires of these complaints and sends them food in the form of quail in the evening and manna in the morning.

Note well that the Lord didn’t provide them a cornucopia of food to shut them up. He provided what they needed, not an abundance to satiate their appetites. Moses instructs the Israelites to eat their fill but to put none aside except for the Sabbath; any manna hoarded otherwise immediately spoiled. This was to demonstrate that the Lord would provide for the Israelites, and that they should rely on Him rather than themselves alone.

This teaches us all a lesson about faith and trust, but also the formation of our appetites and where those lead us. It’s fine to appreciate good food and finer things, but when those interfere with our higher priorities, then they become obstacles to fulfillment rather than instruments to achieve it. If that continues, then eventually those appetites will lead us to focus on ourselves, indulge in sin, and reject the Lord.

We then come to Jesus’ warning in today’s Gospel about formation of our appetites. “Do not work for food that perishes,” He warns, “but for the food that endures for eternal life.” In this teaching, Jesus instructs that the manna in Exodus was the sufficiency for the people, and that the Word of God was likewise sufficient for our salvation. This, Jesus tells us, is what we should form our appetite and desire to receive most of all.

Jesus also tells us that “I am the Bread of Life,” a foreshadowing of His institution of the Eucharist. In this we receive the manna of our age, the Body of Christ through the transubstantiation that takes place in the Mass. This is not meant to be sufficient for the physical needs of our body. It does, however, provide us sufficiency of spiritual food, the fuel that allows us to put some distance from and perspective on our appetites, and enough sustenance to reorder all of those to be in conformation to God’s will.

It is this spiritual food, as well as the Gospel, for which we should truly hunger. We should order our appetites to desire total communion with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. It is this food which never fails, and the only food that brings lasting fulfillment and true happiness.

But I won’t mind a little more Tex-Mex along the way …

The front-page image is a detail from “Christ Blessing the Bread and Fish Brought by a Boy,” by Anthony Van Dyck, c. 1617-20. On display at Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany. Via Wikimedia Commons

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  

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David Strom 5:21 PM on March 31, 2023