Recently, a friend took me and another friend to one of my favorite local eateries, namely The Hummus House on 15th and Chew, right here in Allentown. It was late in the afternoon, and the three of us were the only customers in the five-table establishment. As my friends chowed down on spinach pie and stuffed grape leaves, and I munched away on my garlic chicken Panini (all eventually followed by Arabic ice cream with pistachios), the owner of Hummus House, Albert Heckme, strolled over to where we were seated and began discussing the merits of his wonderful cuisine.
My friends and I learned about the fine art of stuffing grape leaves. In order to meet Albert’s standards, the leaves must be young and tender, and, unlike the stuffed grape leaves you get in cans from the supermarket, they have to be filled with more than just rice. There has to be just the right blend of olive oil, lemon juice, and spices. Albert waxed eloquent about how his fruits and vegetables are picked fresh “by a guy who gets up at four in the morning, drives to Amish fields and orchards, and hand picks the produce himself.”
My lunch companions and I were transported back in time to Mr. Heckme’s hometown in Syria—where each house was built around a central courtyard and garden–and every family had its own trellised grapevine. “The grapevines,” Albert asserted, “provided shade in heat, leaves for food, and grapes for healthy snacking. Back then, we kids didn’t eat any junk food. We ate grapes and raw pistachios. The rich kids were the ones who regularly ate a lot of meat. We didn’t know it at the time, but we poor kids were eating healthy.”
As I sat listening to Mr. Heckme, I was impressed by his passion and by the great delight he takes in feeding his customers, not because he’s making money hand over fist—he’s not—but because he’s giving people good food that’s good for them.
Believe it or not, the same passionate delight I see in Albert when it comes to serving his clientele at Hummus House is what I find in the very last words of this morning’s Gospel. Our Lord says (John 6:35): “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” It seems to me that there’s an almost plaintive, a pleading tone to Jesus’ words. It’s as if Our Lord is saying: Please come to me! I will give you good food and food that’s good for you. I, and only I, will satisfy your deepest longings. In the world, you’ll find empty promises and false hopes. Feed on me and find fulfillment. Why? Because your fulfillment is my delight.
The great twelfth-century Cistercian abbot, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, echoes this idea. In Chapter Seven of his little book, On Loving God, he writes as follows:
Ah! If you wish to attain to the consummation of all desire so that nothing unfulfilled will be left, why weary yourself with fruitless efforts, running hither and thither, only to die long before the goal is reached? . . . Rest is in Him alone.
There you have it. Jesus Christ longs to fill our emptiness. He is good food, and He is good for us. What are we waiting for? The Hummus House is closed on Sunday; the Heckme family are Christians. But the arms of Christ are wide open, every day, all day.