For Sunday, August 6, 2017
For this week’s text from the Gospel of Matthew, if we stick strictly to the lectionary reading we will lose some key information for interpreting today’s passage. Read within the context of Matthew’s narrative, this passage is part of an overall agenda to show the Reign of Heaven in comparison to the empire. By beginning at the first verse in the chapter, we see that Matthew has given us two stories, side by side, about feasts in an attempt to lay out a comparison.
For the last few weeks we have had readings from Matthew 13 where Jesus gives one parable after another about the Reign of Heaven. The word parable, remember, is rooted in the Greek word παραβάλλω, meaning to “place side by side.” We have learned a little already about Albert Schweitzer’s argument for a “thoroughgoing eschatology.” As I put it a few weeks ago, Matthew’s Jesus is obsessed with the Reign of Heaven, an obsession that will eventually get him killed. Up until now, we have been seeing how Jesus’ actions and teachings illustrate this obsession. This week, we have two contrasting feast narratives–one of the empire, the other of the Reign of Heaven.
The Death Feast of Empire: The first twelve verses portray the violent feast of empire, including power, dancing, and the decapitation of John the Baptist. The reader might ask about this story what Dan Berrigan once asked about the author of Revelation, “What kind of preaching brings that kind of punishment?” Here we have a regime ruled by violence and fear of the people. Its goal is power and authority and its means are violence and death.
The Life Feast of Heaven: From verses 13 to 21, we see a totally different kind of feast. This feast includes healing those who are sick, restoring wholeness to those who are broken, and feeding those who are hungry. Here we have the initiation of an alternative way of life ruled by empowering people. Its goal is life and wholeness, and its means are healing and nourishment.
One possible strategy for teaching this text is to allow two groups to read the texts of the different feasts independently and share their responses. Here are some example questions for reflection.
1. The passage you were given is the description of a feast. Overall, how would you describe it?
2. Who is the host of the feast? What title, if any, does the text give to this person?
3. Who is invited to this feast?
4. What can you infer from the text about whether those who were present were well-fed or hungry?
5. What is the most shocking element in this passage? What does it symbolize?
6. The hosts/VIP in the story claimed to be a representative of “god” or the gods. If this story was all you had to go on, what could you infer about the character of the god they represented?
7. Review your answers above. Without peeking in your Bibles, if you were to construct a story to illustrate the opposite of this passage, what elements would it likely include?
Leader: Come! Let us walk along together.
People: Let us join in heaven’s journey!
Leader: Come! Let us sing of life together.
People: Let us join in heaven’s songs!
Leader: Come! Let us break bread together.
People: Let us join heaven’s feast!
All: For salvation and joy and abundance are here. Heaven has arrived among us!
Ever giving God, the abundance of Heaven’s Reign is all around us. We have lived in our ways of scarcity while you have set before us a feast. In a world ruled by greed and envy, you have taught us to be generous and vulnerable. In a world filled with cruelty and indifference, you have taught us a life of care and compassion. As we live and breathe and are nourished by the gifts you bring, may we do so with mindfulness and gratitude, transforming our scarcity into abundances and our brokenness into wholeness. Amen.