Spirituality of the Readings

All Good Gifts

Do you remember the movie Babette’s Feast? Maybe you saw it or at least have heard of it. The Gospel parable reminds us of that movie.

Babette, an impoverished cook, made her way into a small town where the religion of the area made people hard and cold to each other, afraid to enjoy anything or anyone. Babette was a top chef who had wandered up into their community. She had only a small reserve of possessions. But she prepared, over many days, a huge, delectable, superb feast, serving after serving, all for the uptight townsfolk. As they began to taste and enjoy they began also to communicate to each other in kindness. They even danced!

I have heard people say that the movie promoted self-indulgence, but I would not endorse that view.

Instead, it is similar to the huge feast we hear about in the First Reading. This is where we find the famous invitation from the Lord of Hosts, full of unstinting promise. Come to “a feast of rich food and choice wines.” And according to the normal way of Jewish writing, Isaiah repeats the same in different words: “juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” This is a great banquet, called in medieval England a “groaning board.”

Then, Sunday’s Gospel describes a sumptuous feast also. A king prepares it, fattens up his best livestock, seasoned and readied for cooking. Then he sends his servants out with invitations.

If you thought the people in Babette’s town were reluctant, look what happened. Some invitees outright refused to come. Others simply ignored the invitation as if it had not been given. A number “laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.” The king punished these. He invited street people in. Food was meant to be enjoyed, not refused.

But how dare we stuff ourselves with lush food and every other kind of riches with so many people starving in today’s world? Shouldn’t we abstain and deny ourselves? Isn’t the “First World” currently fattened on food far more lavish than the ancients ever dreamt of?

“Who says you can’t have it all?” advertisements insist. Can't we, we who try to be faithful to God and God’s promises?

As you consider that question, remember that Jesus did both: he feasted and he fasted. Recall that he desisted from food for forty days at the beginning of his public ministry. But later on he had occasion to say, mockingly, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Mt 11:19).

Which is it for you, then, fasting or feasting? The answer can be simply said but attained only with difficulty. Here it is: we are meant to receive, humbly, and also to give to others, humbly. The mistake is to adopt a stance of receiving only (getting, grabbing) or giving only (exist just for the poor). The readings invite us to enjoy what is there, all of it coming from God’s hand. Jesus did this. When it was time to let go of it all—life, friends, peace and possessions—he did that too, with love.

Receive and give.

Receive his life. Then give it out to the world.

 

John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson