When we started this series in John chapter 6, I pointed out that this long discourse springs from the feeding of the multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fish, but that it also stands in stark contrast to the very different meal we read about a couple of weeks before we read about that miraculous feeding. These two meals are meant to be held in juxtaposition to each other and considered in terms of how they both form, and inform, our everyday meal keeping practices, and in how we keep the Eucharistic meal together. So I think it’s worth taking another look at the nature of both of these meals.
Herod’s meal with its abuse of power, and its manipulation, and sexual and political intrigue, ending up in the beheading of John the Baptist was about power
- Herod would have invited only the most powerful and prestigious of guests to such an affair, the sorts of people he would want to impress, and before whom he would never want to lose face.
- This meal was about excess. At such symposium feasts it would not be unusual to feast for days, taking breaks for purging, in order to make room for more, discussing the important issues of the day, sexually exploiting women and young boys for the gratification and entertainment of powerful men.
- This meal was about pride. Again, because of who would be in attendance, Herod would go as far as to have an innocent man beheaded, so as not to lose face before his guests.
And so this meal becomes about the senseless murder of an innocent, righteous person.
By way of contrast, the meal Jesus keeps in the wilderness is about inclusion.
- There is no invitation. Those who are hungry and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd, are all welcomed by the compassionate One, Jesus.
- This meal, though it ends up with an abundance, with 12 baskets full of leftovers gathered up, begins with a simple offering of a couple of loaves and fish, and the leftovers are gathered together after everyone has had enough – not too much, mind you, but enough.
- This meal is about what it teaches us about the One who serves it: not a prideful king and his deadly queen, manipulating a young girl for their own pleasure and murderous purposes, but the One who lays down his own life, and feeds us with his own body and blood so that we who receive him will never be hungry or thirsty again, and will live forever.
These stories about two very different meals, and the discourse on Jesus as the Bread of Life that has come down from Heaven that we’ve been working through here in John chapter 6, is still very much about meal keeping, about keeping the Jesus feast as Jesus’ people, and about what it means for how we live in the world as the followers of this One who is, himself, the bread of life, broken for the life of the world…
Our first reading today is very much connected to this line of thought, in that it’s Wisdom’s invitation to the feast. Wisdom, in the Hebrew Scriptures, is the feminine personification of God, and so this can be read, very faithfully, as being God’s own call to come and feast. The wisdom of God calls out with an invitation to come and feast, and it really shouldn’t surprise us that God extends an invitation. It’s to whom Wisdom calls that’s surprising!
- It’s not the rich and powerful and politically well-connected of Herod’s feast.
- It’s not even the crowd of 5000 gathered in the wilderness, seeking out Jesus because they’ve seen and heard what he’s been doing, and are beginning to understand, on some level, who he might be.
No. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite!
Wisdom has built her house, slaughtered her animals, mixed her wine, and set her table, and so she begins to call from the highest places in town – and it’s worth it, here, to note that Wisdom’s house has 7 pillars, and her invitation is going out from the highest places. She’s no slouch, in other words. Her home is opulent, and the “highest places” represent a high degree of power and social standing, which makes it all the more interesting to consider to whom her invitation goes out. You, simple ones, you, senseless ones, turn in here. Come and eat of my bread and drink of my mixed wine.
To those who receive the invitation, comes the laying aside of immaturity. To those who receive the invitation, comes new life. To those who receive the invitation, comes the call to walk in the way of insight. And none of this is earned or in any way deserved. None of this is based on the power or prestige of the one who receives it. Her invitation rings out, and it’s for the simple and senseless ones, for those who lack understanding.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say, in various settings, both as a pastor, and before I was ordained, things like:
- Oh, I can’t do that. I don’t know enough about the Bible
- Or I don’t know enough about God
- Or I’m not good enough.
As if they’re saying: I’m too simple, or too lacking in understanding.
Wisdom’s invitation is specifically addressed to exactly such people, and wisdom’s promise to those who come to her feast is three-fold
- They will lay aside immaturity.
- They will live.
- And they will walk in the way of insight.
Feasting at Wisdom’s invitation, coming to the Lord’s Table to eat the flesh of the Son of Man and to drink his life-giving blood, forms us as individuals and as a community. It makes us who we are meant to be.
Look again at our Psalm for today, and at our reading from Ephesians 5. Those who receive the invitation, those who walk in the way of insight, understand that in God they lack nothing. God grants us wisdom through the Word. (Now, of course, this doesn’t happen by osmosis, like your 4th grade teacher used to say about learning history!)
How many people say: “I don’t know enough about the Bible.” but then never read it, or never come to a Bible study? I mean, there are only 4 people signed up for the adult track of VBS that starts tonight, ad our Bible studies at other times aren’t exactly bursting at the seams. If you feel like you don’t know enough, guess what? There’s a solution!
But the point is that those who seek the Lord experience life on a different level, and in a different way. They seek and pursue peace, shalom, in the Hebrew, which means far beyond the absence of conflict. Shalom, the peace of God, is about wholeness, and holiness. It’s about being everything God has created you to be. It’s about, as the author of Ephesians would say: making the most of the time, and understanding what God’s will is for you. It’s about living in a particular way that is centered in thanksgiving, giving thanks to God at all times and for everything…
I’m trying to suggest in this series, to point out using the larger context of this series of readings that started with Herod’s meal and included the miraculous meal in the wilderness and this long discourse that follows it, that this meal, the Lord’s Supper, sets out for us the pattern of living as disciples of Jesus. Those things I’ve mentioned earlier on in the series about
- who serves
- And who eats when
- And who’s invited
- And how Jesus is both our host and our food
- And how his broken Body sends us out to be broken in service to the world, the real world with all of its real hunger and thirst, physical and natural
And here we see yet another aspect of it. The Lord’s Supper, the meal itself, which we also call, among other things, the Eucharist, eucharistia, a Greek work that means: thanksgiving, reminds us that God calls us to live lives of thanksgiving – giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
- Who is the bread of life
- Whose flesh is true food and whose blood is true drink
- Who, with and like Lady Wisdom, invites us to come and feast
- Who grants us wisdom and insight tat we might live lives of thankful service in the world…
Next week, we finish this series in John chapter 6, so, one more time I say: To be continued…