Page 5, 31st July 1981

31st July 1981
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Page 5, 31st July 1981 — The banquet a foretaste of eternity
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The banquet a foretaste of eternity

Scripture Notebook .

Michael Barnes S.J.

18th Sunda) of the Year

Isaiah 55.1-3 The image of the life of heaven as a banquet in which God sits down at table with his faithful occurs in several places in the prophetic and wisdom books. In the New Testament too there are various parables in which Jesus speaks of the invitation made to the elect to share in the banquet which represents the fulfilment of the Kingdom. Not surprisingly, therefore. Isaiah uses the same ideas as the period of the exile seems to be drawing to a close and a new era of hope is dawning.

But the banquet is only an image. a foretaste of ..hat is to come. The real celebration comes at the end of time. In case the years of the Exile have made the People too literal-minded, expecting instant perfection as soon as they cross over the Jordan, the prophet makes it clear that what God offers is something infinitely more precious than 'a land flowing with milk and honey'.

Water, corn. wine and milk will be there aplenty — but they will all cost nothing. God's greatest gift, the 'everlasting Covenant', which he makes and remakes with his People, is totally free: compared with the promise of eternal life all God's other gifts fade into insignificance.

Romans 8.35, 37-79: We have been listening to readings from this chapter of Romans for some weeks now. Paul's theme is the new life in the Spirit of God which is lived by everyone baptised into the death and resurrection of Christ. The Spirit, not the flesh as formerly. is the principle of existence.

Even in all the trials and problems of life one thing remains absolutely certain and dependable for Paul: the love which Christ has manifested for us. By remaining faithful to that love in the midst of distress. persecution, famine, nakedness and peril, we are able to share in the • eternity of life which he promised.

Finally, Paul turns his attention to a different set of obstacles to the love of God. But 'neither death nor life. nor angels. nor principalities ...' can defeat us. Paul may have had in mind a series of intermediaries that some folk saw as forming a sort of link between God and Man. No -there is only one link, the one whose life we share. Christ Jesu, our Lord.

Matthew 14.13-21: The first reading spoke of the Messianic banquet as an image of the life of the Kingdom, something which would be anticipated in some way here and now but not reach anything like its perfect fulfilment. The Gospel story brings together these two points with a miracle story which itself anticipates the great feast of Christian unity, the Eucharist.

In Matthew we should note that the incident of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is linked with the death of John the Baptist and the subsequent withdrawal of Jesus across the Lake "10 a lonely place where they could he by themselves".

The people. hearing that he is in the area, leave the towns and go out after him on foot. When Jesus steps ashore from the boat he sees the crowds that have gathered, has pity on them, and heals their sick.

They are in a 'lonely place'. • Perhaps there is a parallel with the Exile of the first reading where the Jews are far from home. food and comfort. The disciples too are only too well aware of what has just happened to the Baptist; they also arc in need of support — albeit of a different kind.

What happens subsequently, the distribution of the loaves and the ritual gestures which accompany it — he raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing' — immediately put us in mind of what happened at the Last Supper. The support which Jesus provides is more than a promise of future joy. The life of the Kingdom is made present now.




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