The Passion of Christ, circa 1485−1490 (Old Saint Peter's Church, Strasbourg) Wikimedia Commons

God's word on Sunday: Our seat awaits at the Lord’s banquet

  • August 18, 2018

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 19 (Year B) Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

The gifts of God in the Scriptures are often associated with ample food and drink. A longed-for future time in which the people of God will be happy, at peace and in God’s presence is usually described as a lavish banquet. 

We can call to mind Isaiah 25 — fine foods and wine are promised to the people when they gather on God’s holy mountain. In the New Testament, the messianic age and life in the presence of God is seen in terms of a banquet (Luke 13:29, 14:15; Matt 8:11; Rev 19:9) to which all the peoples of the Earth are invited. 

Table fellowship with the poor and marginalized was a vital part of the ministry of Jesus. The heavenly banquet was the model for the Last Supper and the Eucharist celebrated by the first Christians in the Book of Acts and 1 Corinthians 11. It signified abundance, peace, equality, mutual support and conviviality — something we could certainly use today. 

In Proverbs, Lady Wisdom, the female personification of the wisdom of God, described an exquisite banquet that she has prepared for those willing to accept her invitation. 

She addresses that invitation to the simple, meaning those who are humble and do not think of themselves as too clever to learn anything. The arrogant and know-it-alls are definitely not on the guest list. The wisdom that she offers in her banquet is personal knowledge of God and a deep understanding of God’s ways. 

Psalm 34 invites us to taste and see that the Lord is good — not the first time a divine encounter is described in sensual and culinary terms. But there is a catch — eating Lady Wisdom’s bread and drinking her wine requires an interior change. She demands that people lay aside immaturity! 

Many might object that they are not immature, but Wisdom would disagree. Those who insist on living according to human values, attitudes and behaviour are indeed immature in God’s eyes. Wisdom urges us to stop trying to be clever and to give up the illusion that we are wise. Live and walk in the way of insight, she urges. This insight can only come from a divine source, and only when we are willing to change.

In the mystical literature of many religious traditions, being filled with the Spirit of God is often likened to intoxication. The author of Ephesians warned his followers to avoid the usual type of intoxication or drunkenness with which people are all too familiar. In its place, he proposed the sort of inebriation that is a gift of an encounter with the Spirit. 

This was expressed by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, what the author calls the music of the heart. This is an effective antidote for feelings of anger, depression, resentment, fear and lack of gratitude. It is a way of generating our own happiness and carrying it with us.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the source and the giver of life, for the life-giving Spirit of God resides in Him. The Word became flesh so that we might receive that sustenance from above even while we are still on Earth. 

In describing His role as the giver of divine life, once more a food metaphor is pressed into service. Bread was always regarded as the staple of life, so Jesus applied this label to Himself. He sustains and nourishes. 

Blood is not regarded as a drink in the Old Testament, but as the sacred bearer of life. By offering His blood as drink for those who believe in Him, His role as the giver of eternal life is underscored. Just as the food and drink that we ingest creates and forms us, so Jesus will transform us. We will become who and what He is. 

But just as in the case of Lady Wisdom, we cannot approach the Lord with “attitude.” Only humility and willingness to learn and be transformed will suffice. 

Jesus does not want to remain an object of worship outside of us, but a vital part of our identity and being. 

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