Choose your kingdom; choose your king

File:Tomato vender at the Covington Farmer's Market in Covington, LA.jpg

“You that have no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55)

Watching for the Morning of August 6, 2017

Year A

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 13 / Lectionary 18

I live in a place and time where there has always been food in the grocery store. I understand that privilege. And even in the years I lived in a place that is now referred to as an urban “food desert”, I had a car with which to reach the suburban stores where milk and meat were fresh, and bread and fruit plentiful. I understand the privilege.

I have seen parts of the world where privilege is lacking. I have sat in a board meeting discussing whether we should help a companion church body in a region of the world where, after multiple years of drought, they had no seed corn. It disturbs me still, as it disturbed me then, that there was any hesitation. (We did commit to send the funds immediately, prior to the effort to raise them.)

The scripture is full of stories about famine. Famine takes Jacob (Israel) and his family to Egypt. Drought and famine had Elijah hiding in the wilderness and taking refuge with the widow of Zarephath. Famine takes Naomi to Moab where Ruth becomes her daughter-in-law (and David’s great-grandmother). Locusts (and the subsequent famine) are the occasion for the prophet Joel’s message. Subsistence farmers lead a precarious life, especially in the years of Jesus when the burden of taxes took nearly half the crop, and the necessity of keeping seed and feed left landowners with maybe 20% for food – far less for tenant farmers.

Hunger is a constant companion for too much of the world through too much of human history. And it is those who have known the anxiety and uncertainty of daily bread who recognize the full drama and grace of that day when five loaves feed five thousand.

It is food for today. And it is the bread of tomorrow. It is bread for those who hunger and a taste of a world without hunger. It is manna in the wilderness and a foretaste of the feast to come. It is the prophetic promise made present. It is a world reordered, a world set right, a world born from above. As Mary sang, “the hungry are filled with good things.

In contrast to Herod’s banquet, where Salome will dance for strangers, where the king’s daughter is used to inflame the king’s consorts, where plots conspire and the king’s vanity and shamelessness ends with the head of John on a platter – in contrast to Herod’s banquet is the banquet of Jesus where the people are healed and fed, with an abundance left over.

Choose your kingdom. Choose your king.

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Sunday we hear of the feeding of the five thousand. And the backdrop assigned for this narrative is the prophet of Isaiah 55 giving voice to God’s offer for all who are hungry to come and eat: bread freely given, wine and milk overflowing, the voice of God that is true life. And the psalm will speak of God’s gracious providing, “The LORD” who “upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down”:

15The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

Sunday we will also hear Paul willing to be cursed for the sake of God’s people. And in that sentiment we recognize the spirit of the one who took the curse for our sake. The one who opened the grave. The one who poured out the Spirit. The one who brings the feast without end.

Choose your kingdom. Choose your king.

The Prayer for August 6, 2017

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you set a table
for all the world to come and feast.
Grant us hearts that are eager to hear your word,
share in your banquet,
and live your reign of mercy and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 6, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-5
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” – After the return from exile, the prophet calls to the community like a vendor in the marketplace, inviting them to “feast” on God’s promise that the eternal covenant once established with David is now transferred to the whole nation.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” – A psalm of praise and thanksgiving for God’s grace and bounty.

Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
“I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”
– Having laid out his message of God’s reconciling grace apart from the law, Paul now takes up the problem that God’s people have largely ignored the message of Christ Jesus. He begins with an expression of his great grief that Israel has not received this fruit of all their promises.

Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21
“All ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.” – Following the parables of chapter 13, Matthew tells of Herod’s banquet where all act corruptly and John is beheaded, and of Jesus’ banquet on the mountain where he has compassion for all.

Image:’s_Market_in_Covington%2C_LA.jpg By Saint Tammany [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The Dance of the Seven Veils


Matthew 14

Ludwig Hohlwein poster for a Richard Strauss music festival

13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.

“When Jesus heard this.” The reading for Sunday requires us to look back and see what the “this” is. “This” is the beheading of John.

You have probably heard of this “this”. It was made famous as the “Dance of the Seven Veils” in Richard Strauss’ opera Salome. Salome is the daughter of Herodias from her first marriage to Herod II. His brother, Herod Antipas, scandalously took Herodias as his wife against Biblical law. (Herodias divorced Herod II when he was dropped from his father’s will, perhaps for someone still in line to inherit the throne. To take Herodias, Herod had to divorce the daughter of the Nabataean king. This led to war with the father of the spurned wife.) John dared to preach against the illicit union and Antipas eventually had John arrested. He was, however, hesitant to kill the prophet.

Herodias apparently had no such compunction towards the prophet who called her marriage incestuous. And, according to the Biblical account, at a great palace banquet for his birthday (attended only by men, remember) Antipas allows his daughter to dance for their entertainment. It is shameful to allow a family member to dance before men who were not family. And it is yet more shameful to show oneself aroused and out of control by such a dance. But Herod – again shamefully – promises her anything, up to half his kingdom. Salome consults with her mother and returns to ask for the head of John. Herod is bound by his public oath and has the head of John brought on a platter and given to her.

The feasts of the elite were decadent affairs by almost any standard, made more so by the progressive impoverishment of the poor who were losing their lands to the wealthy. Against this background we see Jesus hold a banquet that feeds the poor.

When Jesus hears about the death of John – his cousin according to Luke – he leaves town. Whether he is avoiding Herod, troubled by grief, or on a spiritual retreat to ponder what John’s death portends for himself, the text doesn’t say. Only that the crowds followed, raced around the lake, and were waiting for him when he got off the boat. Though he sought solitude, he had compassion for them and began to heal their sick. As the day grew late, he is urged to send the crowd away. The five loaves and two fish are not, in Matthew’s telling, brought forth by a small boy; it is all Jesus’ disciples have. But placing their all into the hands of Jesus, it becomes enough to satisfy the whole crowd.

Herod serves a banquet leads to death. But in the wilderness, Jesus serves a banquet that leads to life.