Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13): July 31, 2005

Article excerpt

Isaiah 55:1-5

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:13-21

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
--Psalm 145:15

First Reading

The opening verses of Isaiah 55 (of which we heard later verses several weeks ago) extend God's invitation to Israel to participate in the feast of the covenant. Neither self-conscious dieting nor binging on junk food ("spend[ing] your money for that which is not bread" nor "for that which does not satisfy") are recommended behaviors. Rather, Israel is urged to "eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." Here Second Isaiah echoes the sentiments of the original Isaiah whose reading we heard as an Easter text: "On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear" (Isa 25:6).

Jesus will not only use the metaphor of salvation as eschatological banquet in his teaching, but inclusive table fellowship will become a parabolic mark of his ministry and a major point of contention with his foes. See Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 200ff. Walter Brueggemann suggests that the scene opens in what might be taken to be the hawking voice of a street vendor offering to passersby free water, wine, and milk, which is to be contrasted to the "life resources" offered by what Brueggemann calls the "empire." (For a stimulating contemporary theological critique of American "empire" see Sharon Welch, After Empire [Augsburg Fortress, 2004].)

Yahweh's free "alternative nourishment" of life lived in loyalty to the covenant is a stark contrast to Babylon's tempting allures that are nonetheless "always expensive, grudging, and unsatisfying" (p. 159). Many communion hymns sing of this reality, notably WOV #711, "You Satisfy the Hungry Heart," the old spiritual now available as Renewing Worship Songbook #R172, "Welcome Table," as well as the Spanish hymn "Let Us Go Now to the Banquet," #R178.

In a culture in which obesity is epidemic and even the church's Board of Pensions has begun to get serious about preventive health care, nutrition, and exercise because of skyrocketing health-care costs, the counsel to "delight yourselves in rich food" may need to be subordinated to the prior word to "eat what is good" (v. 2).

Still, banqueting/feasting/celebratory partying with good food and drink is a dominant image of that messianic feast to come of which the Christian Eucharist is to be experienced as a "foretaste." While as Christians we live always in awareness of the inequitable distribution of the world's goods, including notably food and water, we nonetheless worship a provident and even prodigal God who did not create a world of scarcity and hunger. Many first-worlders will testify to the astonishing feasting and generous hospitality they have experienced while visiting the "poor" third-world communities of our "companion" synods. (It's worth remembering that the word "companion" derives from the Spanish word meaning "to share bread with.")

Pastoral Reflection

I am one of those pastors who finds fiction and film great resources for reflection on issues of faith and life. Two of my all-time favorites happen to be short stories made into films retaining the same titles, Isaak Dinessen's "Babbette's Feast" and James Joyce's "The Dead." Both stories/films center around a gala meal in which the feast becomes a communal epiphany. …