We’re all hungry. Some are hungry for literal food. We might be hungry for the social engagement of eating together. COVID has prompted hunger for many aspects of life. We hunger for communion – with people and with God.
God promises a banquet. In my high school we had Junior/Senior Banquets, not proms. We could not dance (perhaps in more ways than one). I do not remember the food, but I remember my beautiful date, now my wife for 44 years. Banquets are about more than food.
The Gospel of Mark paints a contrast of banquets (ch. 6). Herod’s banquet was about more than food. It was about power. The earthly powers were the host and the invitees. There was the power of dance and maybe its sexuality. Herod was boasting of his power with the words King Xerxes said to Esther, “up to half of my kingdom,” and reflecting the downfall of the arrogant King Belshazzar in Daniel 5. The women used their power to get their way. The powerful partied while the poor were imprisoned and killed, foreshadowing Jesus’ future, but not his end.
Right after Herod’s banquet Mark tells us of Jesus’ banquet. His was not in a palace of plenty but in a wilderness of want. The guests were different – not the world’s powers but the harassed hungry, “sheep without a shepherd.” The resources seemed much more limited. There was no dancing, boasting or conniving. There was a question: “How?” The disciples asked how they could feed the people. Jesus asks, “How many loaves do you have?” Seemingly, not much.
Jesus directed them to sit in groups “on the green grass,” maybe a hint. He prays the meal blessing and gives to his disciples to give to others. All are satisfied (related to the same Greek root word for “grass” earlier), and there are leftovers, 12 basketfuls. How? I don’t know. I do see a new shepherding host working with the world’s resources through his disciples to hold a new banquet. Jesus does in a moment what God means to do every day if there were justice and righteous leaders.
The Shepherd’s Banquet
Just as Herod’s banquet tells other stories, so does Jesus’. “Sheep without a shepherd,” the “green grass,” and the 12 baskets provide hints. At the end of his life Moses asked to be that shepherd of the sheep. He had abused his power and could not (Num. 27:12-17). The prophet Micaiah challenges Ahab’s false leadership with the vision of shepherd-less sheep (1 Kings 22). Zechariah and Jesus saw this image as Israel’s struggle (Zech. 13:7; Mark 14:27).
The “green grass” hints at more, a good shepherd. Mark and Jesus are picking up the long-sung refrain in Psalm 23. It closes with the female image of providing an abundant meal, “You prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies . . . my cup overflows.” There are abundant leftovers. There’s a new shepherd in town.
Jesus sings the shepherd song in John 10. “I am the good shepherd [who] lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:14).
The Greater Banquet
Jesus symbolizes the greater banquet (John 2). The Jewish preparation water is turned into abundant wine, and the wedding banquet is saved. Behind this is Isaiah’s vision: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will . . . swallow up death forever” (Isa.25:6–8a). “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” (Rev.19:9).
Come hungry to the Easter banquet.