In flicking through the weekend papers, I sometimes stumble over the ‘Social Pages,’ the place where the ‘A-listers’ of Sydney society are featured in all their glory – and otherwise. I’m never really interested to read their stories about the latest party or event that they have attended. I confess that I’m rather pleased I don’t have to dress up and play that game, of pleasing and impressing people to climb a ladder, social or otherwise. Likewise, the lavish affairs that follow various entertainment awards ceremonies, the after parties, often seem (to the outsider) orgiastic affairs of rich food, too much drink (and other stimulants) and other ‘entertainment.’ These are for those who are invited, who have made it in the world of entertainment, business, sport, politics; those who are celebrity. The higher up the ladder the more significant and upmarket the events you are invited to, the more exclusive and lavish.
It was such an affair that is spoken of in Matthew’s story of Jesus. Herod Antipater, one of the sons of the infamous King Herod ruled over part of his father’s kingdom under Rome. For his birthday he threw a party, an over-the-top affair for those he wanted to be seen with, to impress or who were sycophantic beings wanting to show their faces at such an event and impress others. It seems a lavish affair of wine, food and seduction – and violence. Following a seductive dance, his stepdaughter was promised anything her little heart desired. She consulted her conniving mother and they decided on the head of John the Baptist. John was an outspoken prophet who lashed out at the couple because Antipater got rid of his first wife and took Herodias, his half-brother’s wife, for his own. John railed and Herodias fumed, looking for the moment of vengeance.
So, John’s head was delivered on a platter to the Queen and her daughter, ending a night of lavish food, wine, seduction and violence. This is the feast of Herod and an echo of how power, wealth and fame so often form exclusive enclaves where the ‘elite’ can lord it over the masses and feel their superiority. They may also be places where jealousy festers and egos compete for prominence and the upper hand. Self-centred individualism thrives in these competitive niches and alcohol lowers inhibitions and fuels conflict and violence. The stories emanating from the rich and famous are legendary and ongoing.
Over and against this lavish feast of orgiastic violence, was a very different gathering. Matthew (14:13-21) describes a very different affair as Jesus wanders the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Crowds of ordinary people gather in large numbers. This crowd probably included anyone and everyone, whether they ought to have been there or not. The lonely, desperate, powerless and anyone caught in the yearning and longing for life and hope, heard where he was and made their way there. They gathered to listen, and Jesus filled their mind and being with words and stories that touched them to the core of being. He lifted spirits and gave hope as the gathered people grew into an inclusive community who shared the pain and joy of life together.
It was late in the day when his disciples realised that there was no food and the people needed to go and find something to eat. They approached Jesus who told them to feed the crowd themselves! ‘We have no food! It would cost us everything we have and more to buy food for this crowd. We can’t feed them!’ Jesus told them to gather what food was available and bring it to him. They found some loaves and fish. Jesus held the food up, gave thanks and blessed it. He broke it and gave it to the disciples to distribute to the crowd of ‘5000’. Everyone ate and had enough. There were 12 baskets full left over.
This is such a different and contrasting story on so many levels. The people gathered to learn and grow, to find hope and life. They were connected in an inclusive gathering where all were welcomed and could find a place. There were no ‘A-listers’ (nor ‘B-listers’…) but everyone recognised as equal and unique. They were drawn into a fellowship of love and grace that nurtured them in the lifegiving love of God.
In the story, everyone receives food – the same food. It was simple but filling and nourishing and it fed everyone. There were ‘5000’ and 12 baskets full remained. The numbers are suggestive – ‘5’ is the number of the Torah, the Law of Moses – 5 books. This story is about the Jewish people, God’s chosen and those to whom Jesus belonged and proclaimed God’s Reign. The 12 reminds us of God’s people – represented by 12 tribes and then 12 disciples. This is a feeding story where all God’s people received their fill for body, mind and spirit – and there is some over!
Further along in Matthew’s story there will be another similar story, a feeding of ‘4000’ with ‘7’ baskets full left over. It happens on the other side of the lake, the gentile (non-Jewish) side. The number ‘4’ symbolises the whole world (4 corners of the globe) and ‘7’ is the number of God’s completion (the 7th day is the last day when God rested after creation). This will represent God feeding the whole world! (with some left over!).
In God there is enough for everyone! There is enough for body, mind and spirit. There is enough love, grace, hope, peace and life for all! In God there is enough!!! This ‘enough’ is inclusive, life-giving and for all the world. It is only as we become preoccupied with self and seek to control our own resources rather than generously share what is provided with one another that there becomes lack – as we see terribly visible in so many parts of the world. As nations become exclusive and hoard resources, lend with high interest and are not willing to work together, share and ensure everyone has enough, people will continue to suffer starvation and die – at the rate of 25,000 a day. Poverty-related illness, death and suffering is an enormous issue that we have the resources to overcome. The US, for example, spent trillions of dollars on a war against Iraq (and in Afghanistan) that achieved little more than create greater chaos and suffering. A portion of that money could have brought huge relief to the underdeveloped, hungry world!
The vision of God’s Reign is a feast where everyone has a seat at the table and we all share in the new wine of the Kin[g]dom, a place where all belong and find their life in the inclusive, nurturing, liberating Divine Heart, a Relational Community of Love that holds all things graciously and tenderly. The vision of ‘heaven on earth’ as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, is for this Reign to take shape in our lives here, now. We see glimpses of this when humans pull down barriers, share resources and work together in a crisis to help each other. People share – food, money, beds/housing, clothes. Everyone has what they need in that moment and we worry about the next moment when it arrives, rather than our continual hoarding and stashing away ‘our stuff.’
In God’s Reign, in God’s creation, there is plenty! There is enough for all the world but only when we are liberated to share and embrace one another in inclusive community.