This is an awful story, isn’t it? Hard to read. Hard to hear.
Perhaps we can ignore this story and most on to the next one instead. It’s a much more uplifting story about Jesus feeding 5,000 people.
Check it out if you like.
The story of Herod’s ghastly party runs right into the story where Jesus makes sure that everyone is fed.
Mark is a meticulous writer. He didn’t accidentally put these stories together. He wants us to hear them one right after the other.
I imagine you know quite a lot about the story of the feeding of the 5,000. It’s a story found in all four gospels.
As Mark tells the story, it’s filled with contrasts:
- Jesus withdrew to be alone … a great crowd followed him
- It was a deserted place … it was an abundant place
- The disciples said, “Send the people away.”… Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”
- We have only five loaves and two fish … Those who ate were more than 5000, with 12 baskets left over.
But the most significant contrast is between Jesus’ banquet of life and Herod’s banquet of death.
Mark has placed these two stories side by side, so we will see the stark contrasts.
So, hard as it is to listen, let’s go back to Herod’s story.
Mark portrays Herod as a powerful man who is weakened because of his own corrupt personal morality. We see a man who is married to a woman he should not have an intimate relationship with, watching a young woman he should not be lusting after, making an offer he should not be extending, until he is cornered into serving a feast who’s only leftovers are head of John the Baptist.
Mark has shown us a Jesus who answers to no one but God alone. We see his personal wisdom and devotion in the transition between the banquets. Jesus hears of the terrible and unnecessary death of his cousin and calls his disciples to withdraw with him to rest and pray.
But the crowds find Jesus, and he teaches them until it is late. The disciples say, “This is a deserted place…send the crowds away so that they may go into the village and buy food for themselves.” “Good idea!” Herod would have said, “Send them away.” But Jesus says to his disciples, “They need not go away You give them something to eat.”
Mark shows Jesus serving up a banquet, which is the opposite of Herod’s in every way. Herod’s banquet was in a lavish palace. Jesus’ banquet is in a deserted place. Herod’s guests were a select group of important officials. Jesus’ guests are whoever is there. Herod held a party in his own honor. Jesus offers a banquet to address the most essential physical needs of human beings – hunger, thirst, companionship.
You probably know that the English word companion is a compound of the Latin com, meaning “with” and panis, meaning “bread.” A companion is someone with whom you share your bread. Sharing bread with the poor, the despised, the sick, the sinners, the outcasts, and the unclean, Jesus was saying, “These are my companions. These are my friends.” Many of the powerful, the pure, the rich and the righteous were infuriated by Jesus’ inclusion.
John the Baptist may have been executed at Herod’s banquet because he named the unrighteous and immoral behavior of a ruler. Jesus was executed simply because he insisted on holding banquets like the feeding of the 5,000, where everyone was welcome and everyone was fed.
This is important to remember in a week when we have seen harsh quarantines for those who have come anywhere near the coronavirus. It is good to remember in a month when we must consciously pay attention to the Black History of our own nation, noting the historic separations and oppressions, and facing the reality of a stinking movement to divide people by the color of their skin all over again. It is excellent to remember as we move from impeachment and into primaries and witness the entrenching divide between political rivals, parties, positions.
The critics of Jesus were always saying, “Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners.” To which Jesus responded, “That’s right. Come join us. There is always room at my table. There is always enough at my feast. ” No questions asked. No standards of cleanliness. No power to be traded. No one is excluded. No one is excluded if you will join us all.
All who share bread with Jesus are his companions. All who dare to feed the hungry, spend time with the suffering, bear with the sinner, extend a hand to the outcast are companions of Christ.
The banquet of Jesus Christ is a place where all who want to be fed the bread of heaven are welcome. We come not because we are rich or worthy or good. We come because we long for more.
And just as the fish and the loaves continued to multiply, so do the companions of Jesus. At the banquet of Jesus there is always room for those who make room for all.