In its April 4, 2018 edition, Travel and Leisure published an article entitled “American Exchange Students Started a Fire in Italy by Cooking Pasta Without Water.” The three women did indeed do as the title states. Fortunately, firefighters arrived before too much damage was done. Some furniture and the stove were destroyed, but no one was hurt.
The authorities were incredulous that none of the three knew how to cook pasta. The Italian press had a field day with the incident, portraying the young women as a fulfillment of the “ugly American” stereotype. One writer claimed that “of course, in America, no one cooks; they just buy food cooked for them.”
Yet one person was moved with pity and compassion: renowned Florentine chef Fabio Picchi of the restaurant Cibréo, who offered them a free four-hour cooking class. After learning some kitchen basics, the girls were invited to have lunch with Picchi and his fellow chefs.”
The gist of the story is that girls just did not know how to cook. One who knew well had to show them how. The Gospel passage for today’s liturgy has a similar ending – the one who knew had to show them how.
Unlike the girls in the story above, people who were coming to Jesus knew they needed him. Something about him made them realize that they needed to be taught by him. He attracted them; as they watched and heard him, they knew he had something to offer. They did not want him to leave; they would not let him go. They sought him because he could teach them — in this case, it not about cooking, but about life and how to live it well.
Jesus knows about life, because he himself is the author of life, for “all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (John 1:3). He sees the people’s desire and looks upon them with compassion, like the good shepherd of Psalm 23. He gathers the flock around him and he teaches them the way of God. In this sense he fulfills the prophecy of Jeremiah: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow … I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land.”
Jesus is the good shepherd and righteous king who establishes justice and peace. St. Paul speaks of this in his Letter to the Ephesians: “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace … He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” We are gathered together in the Lord and by the Lord, and through him we are made one.
The people in the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy hungered to be with Jesus. Their great need for them to be near him and to learn from him is underlined by his going off to a deserted place. They follow him there. They know they need him, and they will seek him out wherever he goes.
The people recognize that they need Jesus to lead them, guide them and teach them. Jesus’ response is one of compassion, for “his heart was moved with pity for them.” And so “he began to teach them many things.”
He does the same for us when we seek him out.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.