Two Dinner Parties … but only one I want to attend.

Proper 13A: Matthew 14:13-21. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Lake Jackson, Texas.

I love a good dinner party. Don’t you? 

My husband and I have always enjoyed hosting dinner parties. He’s a wonderful cook and I like to tidy the house, set the table, and prepare the drinks. 

Sharing a meal has the power to strengthen and deepen friendships, nourishing the body and the soul.

Needless to say, COVID-19 has put a damper on dinner parties for us. And to think — we had been compiling a list of folks we wanted to have over in 2020! Well, maybe now in 2021? We’ll see…

And here at the church, our dinner parties have been put on hold, too. I’m of course referring to the Holy Eucharist — the bread and the wine, blessed and broken. The foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Where all are invited. All are fed. 

But perhaps during this time of fasting from the Eucharist for safety reasons, we can reflect on what the Eucharist means to us. How it nourishes us. How it deepens our relationships — with God and with others. How it is a sign of God’s kingdom on earth. How it is different from other dinner parties.

Because if we look closely at Matthew, what we hear today is one of two dinner parties which are presented side-by-side within the gospel. Chapter 14 begins with Herod’s birthday party, immediately followed by Jesus’ spontaneous banquet feeding a multitude of people.

Recall Herod’s birthday party (14:6-12): a feast, a dancing girl, Herod’s boastful and self-aggrandizing promise to give her whatever she wants, which turns out to be … John the Baptist’s head on a platter. 

Herod ordered John to be murdered. John’s death makes for a cruel and macabre party trick by this so-called strong man named Herod.

“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself” (14:13).

Jesus is grieving. So, let us pause in this tear-soaked moment. Remember, John and Jesus are related. In the Gospel of Luke (1:41), an in utero John leapt inside Elizabeth’s womb when pregnant cousin Mary came to visit. Do you suppose Mary told Jesus about that?

And, this also might be a fear-infused moment. This is a tough time to be a prophet — someone who speaks truth to power. And John’s murder foreshadows Jesus’ execution.

So many reasons to want to be alone.

The Sea of Galilee. 2018 Pilgrimage with Perkins School of Theology, SMU and Christ Church Cathedral, Houston.

Now, if you’ve been to the Holy Land and visited the Sea of Galilee … you know it’s just a big lake. I’m sorry if this disappoints you, but it’s not like going down to Surfside and looking out and all you can see is water. No. You can see to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And, because of the low-rise hills surrounding the “sea,” there’s no hiding on the land or the water. It’s easy to imagine a crowd of people walking along on the land following Jesus’ boat on the water.

We can project all kinds of feelings and thoughts onto Jesus right now (especially all you introverts — I see you!). But let’s set our projections aside, because Matthew tells us.

Jesus had compassion for them.

Compassion.

Com-passion of course means to suffer with or with suffering. In the midst of his own suffering, he could see and be with theirs.

The word compassion is a good start, but what Matthew is conveying in the Greek to us is a “gut-wrenching, intestinal twisting, visceral emotion of care.”[1]

And it is in this emotional landscape where Jesus engages them with empathy: he cures the sick and feeds the hungry people. This is Jesus’ dinner party, obviously in stark contrast to Herod’s. 

Herod is all about him.

Jesus is all about … us.

And Jesus feeds the multitude with the assistance of his disciples who don’t think they have much at all!

We have nothing…” they say “but … five loaves and two fish.”

And — here’s the good news! — our Lord and Savior says: “Bring them here to me.”

And in this, we are reminded that God created the universe ex nihilo — out of nothing! So, “next to nothing is Jesus’ favorite thing to work with.”[2] With God, from nothing and next to nothing comes abundance and life!

While we won’t be celebrating the Eucharist today, we will have a food drive. From 5-7 p.m. this evening, we will collect your donations for the Food Basket. And because themed dinner parties are fun, fruit cocktail and jello are the featured items we are collecting, but we’ll gladly receive any offering you bring.

And in this way, we once again participate in Christ’s feeding of the multitude — Jesus’ dinner party.

Even those of us who may be feeling we have next to nothing right now … our Lord, full of compassion and gut-wrenching love for all people says: “Bring them here to me” (14:18).

It’s a different kind of dinner party. 

Very different from Herod’s.

With Christ, all are welcome, there will be enough — in fact, an abundance! — resulting in life.

And of all the tables I could feast at, and at all the dinner parties I might attend, Christ’s is the only one I truly want and need … whatever it might look like right now.

How about you?

+++


[1] Jacobson, Rolf. The God Who Feels – and Feeds. Craft of Preaching: Dear Working Preacher. July 26, 2020.

[2] Ibid.

Working Preacher Brainwave podcast #736: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

Harrington, Daniel J. Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Matthew.

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