Tale of Two Feasts

A meditation on Mark 6.14-44 at Wine Before Breakfast,
November 14, 2017


Much depends on dinner.

Much depends on who eats and who doesn’t,
on who is invited to dinner,
on who is the host,
and on where you eat.

Much depends also on the menu,
and on the entertainment for the meal.

You are what you eat, it has been said.

Who you are, your status in society,
your self-understanding,

your place in the world
is reflected on what you eat
and with whom who you eat.

Much depends on dinner.

And what a dinner it was.
This was a birthday dinner to end all birthday dinners.

Everyone was there.
The whole royal court,
the military leaders,
and all the important business people.

No little people at this dinner.
Not on this guest list.

Only the most important,
only the most powerful,
only the inner circle,
only those who had courted favour with Herod were invited,
dressed in their finest clothes,
dressed to impress,
dressed to kill.

Much depends on dinner,
and much depends on the menu.

And for this dinner, no expenses were spared.
An opulent meal,
sumptuous,
succulent,
exorbitant.

This was a meal, the likes of which ordinary folk could hardly imagine.
Rich meats – goat, duck, pheasant, beef, lamb, fish.
Savoury dishes – lentils, vegetables, beans.
Delicious desserts – yogurt, fruit, cakes.
Beautiful cakes. Cakes like you’ve never seen before.
Believe me. 

A feast hosted by the “king.”
Nothing less than royal hospitality.

Much depends on dinner,
and much depends on the entertainment.

So the “queen’s” daughter dances.

This is no Jewish meal,
and this is no Jewish dance.

Evocative, suggestive, erotic,
flowing movements,
suggestive poses,
flirtatious grins.

Here is a dance befitting to the meal.
Opulent, sumptuous, succulent, exorbitant.

A feast for the eyes to match the feast for the stomach.
An erotic dance for an exotic meal.
A little “dessert” after the dessert.
Something to feed the imagination
on a full stomach.

Something to delight the eyes.
Something else for the consumptive pleasure of the guests.

Herod liked this dance.

His wife’s daughter,
this child who was once his niece,
but now his step-daughter
had pleased the king,
and pleased his guests.

So in a moment of drunken exuberance,
in a moment of royal largesse,
in a moment of wild applause,
for the girl who had brought this dinner party
to a crescendo of enjoyment,
the king offers the girl “anything she likes.”

Just ask, my little precious, “anything you like.”
Hooray! the assembled guests shout.
Isn’t this the best party we’ve ever been to?
Hooray for the king and his lovely stepdaughter.
Hooray for good food, good wine, good entertainment!

“Thank you, ‘Daddy.’
You see, what I would like would be one more dish in this feast.
What I would like, and what Mommy would like,
is one more platter to be brought before our esteemed guests.”

“Yes, my lovely, yes, just name it.
Whatever you wish!”

“I would like the head of John the Baptist
on a platter.

And I would like it right now!”

Much depends on dinner.

And this opulent, sumptuous, succulent,
exorbitant and erotic dinner could only go one way.

This is an opulent feast of death.

A drunken oath,
“anything you want,”
must be honoured.

The embarrassment of refusing would be intolerable.
Royal face must be preserved at all costs.

Much depends on dinner,
and this dinner must end with the head of John the Baptist.

This dinner must have one more platter,
even if it takes one’s appetite away.

When truth-telling prophets meet arrogant kings,
the results are deadly.

Jesus takes the news hard.
John is dead, so he goes off for some quiet time
with his disciples.

He takes the community away from the crowds,
and they go out for dinner.

Much depends on dinner,
and much depends on where you go out for dinner.
So Jesus takes his friends to the wilderness.

Much depends on dinner
and whether you eat in the palace or the wilderness

will say everything about who you are,
where your hope lies,
and what story this dinner is to tell.

Much depends on dinner
and much depends on who is invited to dinner.

Jesus invited the twelve disciples,|
but the crowds insisted on coming to dinner as well.

So how does Jesus respond?

Does he rage, “who invited you”?
Does he complain, “but this was a by-invitation-only dinner party”?
Does he insist on just a little private time to grieve with his inner circle?

No.

Filled with compassion,
a compassion decidedly absent at Herod’s courtly feast,
Jesus healed the sick.
He is an agent of life in the face of Herod’s reign of death.

But they get hungry.
The crowd in the wilderness gets hungry.
And they want their dinner.

Once again, it all hangs on dinner.

“Give them something to eat,” he tells the disciples.
“Umm, Jesus, this is quite the crowd,
and, well, we don’t have all that much food with us.
Don’t you think that maybe they should go and buy food for themselves?”

The disciples appeal to the food economy of the day,
oppressed and depressed as it was,
to solve the problem of hunger.

But Jesus knows that this economy,
this market system,

this food production and consumption system,
is not up to the task of feeding – really feeding – hungry people.

“So what resources do we have” he asks the incredulous disciples.

“Five loaves and a couple of fish.”

That will be enough.

“Give them something to eat.”

Much depends on dinner.

The overabundance of Herod’s feast
meets the scarcity of this meal in the wilderness.

The over-the-top opulence of Herod’s feast
meets the simplicity of a peasant’s meal.

The elite inner circle of power
meets the powerless crowds.

The exorbitant palace
meets the wilderness.

The pretended puppet monarch
meets the Kingdom of God.

The kingly feast of death
meets the Messianic banquet.

The costly meal of Herod
meets the sustenance of Jesus,

offered at no cost.

Much depends on dinner.

At the end of Herod’s birthday party
all that is left over is a man’s head on a platter.

At the end of Jesus’ exodus party,
what is left is twelve baskets full of bread.

Israel has been gathered,
Israel has been fed,
Israel has been restored,
the new exodus is under way.

The birthday feast of Herod
meets the birthday of the restored Israel,
reborn in the wilderness,
gathered again on an exodus
from slavery in the face of deathly imperial banquets
to manna in the wilderness.

Much depends on dinner,
and much still depends on dinner

Dinner is still a matter of life and death.

In a world of the stuffed and the starved,
in a world of those who eat and those who do not,

in a world where the hungry produce the food for the overfed,
where food tells a story of human exploitation and ecological destruction,
where the animals we eat are subjected to a living death in factory farms,
where soil is stripped of its vitality through mono-cropping agribusiness,
where food is reduced to a commodity mass produced
for the highest profit for those who control capital,
in this world, dinner is a matter of life and death.

In a world where the poor eat the left-over’s and discards
of the industrial food system as their daily bread,
where migrant farm workers are debt slaves to their masters,
where the food that we eat is making us sick,
where obesity is an epidemic in the richest countries of the world,
where industrial agriculture is the greatest cause of global warming,
in this world, dinner is still a matter of life and death.

Much depends on dinner.

And we have been invited to the wedding feast of the lamb.

This is a meal of life, not death.
This is a meal that we long for and that should shape every meal that we eat.
This is a meal that anticipates the restoration of creation,
a world where all debts are forgiven,
where all are welcome,
where all are fed,
where creation will be fruitful again,
and the leaves of the trees will be for the healing of the nations.

We have been invited to the wedding feast of the lamb.
And every Tuesday morning we get a foretaste of that feast.
Every Tuesday morning we are invited to eat with Jesus.
He is the host, we are his guests.

The table is set, come and eat, my friends, come and eat.
It isn’t much, but it just might save your life. Amen.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

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