"This Is the Feast"#89-31
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 3, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Luke 22:27
She was the sort of artist who, after she had given all she had, still had more to give. Her name was Babette. Babette had been the famous chef at the renowned Café Anglais in the City of Paris. In the year of our Lord 1870, she was the greatest culinary genius in France. But then there was the fighting in France that led to a bloody revolution. Babette's husband and only son were killed. Her life in danger, a friend helped her flee from France north to Norway. Babette had never been to Norway. She didn't even speak the language. But it happened that she came to live with two elderly sisters, Martine and Philippa, named after the great German reformers Martin Luther and his friend, Philip Melanchthon.
Martine and Philippa were the only children of a pious Lutheran pastor in Norway. They had never married but stayed with their father to carry on his ministry to the humble people of their small fishing village. Their father had long been dead when Babette was found on their doorstep, deathly pale, exhausted from the journey, when they agreed to let Babette stay with them, serving without pay as their housekeeper and cook. They had no idea that they had taken in the greatest culinary genius in a generation.
Babette is just a character in a short story titled "Babette's Feast," written by Karen Blixen under the pen name Isak Dinesen, later adapted into a film of the same title. The story of Babette's Feast is about how Babette came to create an unforgettable feast for these two sisters, Martine and Philippa, and ten of their friends: most of whom couldn't appreciate the difference between French cuisine and French fries. How could they? They had subsisted their lives in that small fishing village on a Spartan diet of boiled cod and bread ale soup.
When Babette first came to live among them, they thought she was a common beggar. Yet she proved to be a conqueror, but not in the military manner. Babette's quiet countenance and steady glance had magnetic qualities. Under her eyes, things moved noiselessly into their proper places.
As the sisters, Martine and Philippa continued their father's ministry, helping feed the lowly neighbors in their village, they noticed that with Babette as their servant, their housekeeping costs were miraculously reduced. And the food that she prepared had a mysterious power—power to revive and strengthen the poor and the sick.
But the sisters were heartbroken when they learned that Babette would be leaving them. A letter from France had come addressed to Babette. It turns out a friend had put her name in for the lottery, and Babette had won the grand prize: 10,000 Francs. Now, I'm not sure how much that is in dollars accounting for exchange rates and inflation since 1883, but let's just say that Babette hit the jackpot. And if she played her cards right, she would be set for life. And Martine and Philippa braced themselves for the day that Babette would leave them and return to France now that she was an independently wealthy woman. But Babette said that she wanted to prepare feast for them. Reluctantly, the sisters agreed. They didn't want Babette to go to all the trouble, but they thought, what difference would one dinner make for a woman with 10,000 Francs?
So, they invited the remaining members of their deceased father's congregation, ten elderly men and women, most of had palates about as refined as a codfish. And though they couldn't begin to comprehend what she was preparing for them, Babette spared no expense. Cashing in on old contacts from France, the exotic ingredients she assembled would have made an Iron Chef episode look like a roll of tin foil. And this feast as she served it did more than fill their bellies, it lifted their spirits and melted their hearts.
During the feast, petty grievances and long-held grudges were forgiven, past betrayals buried, and long-dead relationships resurrected. When the guests were gone, Martine and Philippa went to see Babette in the kitchen. They found her seated on the chopping block, exhausted, surrounded by more black and greasy pans than they had ever seen in their lives. Still unaware of the full measure of her sacrifice. They told her, "Thank you for the nice dinner, Babette. We will remember this evening when you have gone back to France."
"I'm not going back," she said. "I'm staying here with you."
"What do you mean you're not going back? With all that money?"
"I have no money."
"But the 10,000 Francs."
A dinner for 12 at Cafe Anglais cost 10,000 Francs, and that's what she had given them. She'd given all she had.
This story can serve us as a parable. It's a symbolic tale, reflecting what is most true about the universe—that you and I, everyone and everything, the exotic extravagance of all creation—we are all created and sustained by the singular Artist who has given us everything and still has more to give. You and I can sense the echoes of this holy Artist everywhere in creation. Yet we hear His voice, we see His face, we come to know Him personally in Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, the only Son of the one true God.
Now, when the proud religious leaders in Israel put Jesus on the chopping block, they had no idea whom they had encountered. At first glance, He appeared to be a homeless beggar, a common Galilean peasant claiming to speak for God. But others in Israel, as they followed Him and heard His magnetic words, they saw a conqueror. Not a conqueror with cruise missiles and armored convoys, but a king: a King who conquered by serving, by giving, by offering Himself as the sacrifice to set His people free.
You can hear His story in the Gospel according to Luke, one of the Bibles four biographies of Jesus. Jesus is the Leader of God's people. He is the host of the feast, as well as the sacrifice. He's the fulfillment of the promise of Passover. Centuries before, Jesus' people, the people of Israel, had been slaves in Egypt. They were the chosen people of God, people of a promise for the sake of the world, but they had become slaves. So God sent them a deliverer, Moses, whom they tried to put on the chopping block. But through God's miraculous intervention, Moses led them out of slavery. God sent plagues on their captor to persuade him to let His people go. And the night before they were released, God had them all stop to celebrate a feast.
Each household was to sacrifice a lamb, to eat the meat roasted over the fire with bitter herbs, and to use its blood to mark their homes to protect them from God's coming judgment on the false gods of their captors. And this moment, for Israel, it wouldn't be just a one-time event in ancient history. It was an enacted parable showing us all what had gone wrong with the world, that humanity was meant to know and to reflect the great Artist who created them. But like Israel, humankind had been enslaved to a powerful spiritual adversary, to Satan, the captor who turned us all in on ourselves to trust in our own creations rather than the Creator.
So God Himself came to deliver us. And once again, He did it by serving a feast. God, in the Person of Jesus, His Son; became the host and the sacrifice, the leader and the lamb, their shield and their nourishment. This moment in Israel's history when Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, it wasn't just for Israel. Jesus gave Himself for all, for you, for me, and He still has more to give. Listen to how it goes in the Gospel according to Luke 22.
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was drawing near. And the chief priests and the scribes, the leaders in Israel, were looking for a way to dispose of Jesus, because they were afraid of the people, because the people were listening to Jesus. Then Satan entered Judas, who is called Iscariot, even though he was one of the twelve. And Judas went out and discussed with the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard as to how he might betray Jesus to them. They were delighted and they agreed to give him money. So Judas consented, and he started looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus to them in the absence of a crowd.
Then the Day of Unleavened Bread arrived when the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover." They said to him, "Where do you want us to go to make preparations?" He said to them, "Look, as you go into the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters and say to the master of the house, 'The teacher says to you, Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations for us there." And they went out and found it, just as Jesus had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
When the hour had come, Jesus reclined at the table and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. Because I tell you that I will not eat of it again until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom, in the rule and reign of God." And then He took a cup. And when He given thanks, He said to them, "Take this and divide it among yourselves. Because I tell you that from now on, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And when He had taken bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them and said, "This is My body, which is being given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me."
In the same way after supper, He took a cup and said, "This cup, which is being poured out for you, is the new covenant in My blood. But look, the hand of the one who is betraying Me is with mine on the table. Because the Son of Man is going, as it has been determined, but woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed." Then the disciples began to question one another, which of them it might be, who would do this?
And then an argument broke out among them about which of them seemed to be the greatest, but Jesus said, "The kings of the Gentile nations act as lords over them. And those who exercise authority over them are called good workers, but not so with you. Let the greatest among you become like the youngest, and the leader as the one who serves. Because who is regarded as greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Isn't it the one reclining at the table? But I Myself am among you as the one who serves. You all are those who have stayed with Me during My trials, and I assign to you as My Father has assigned to Me a kingdom, so that you will eat and drink at My table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." The Gospel according to Luke 22.
When the sisters Martine and Philippa heard what Babette had done, they didn't speak for a full minute, pondering how she had spent all her money on this feast for them. Finally, it was Philippa who spoke: "Dear Babette, you should not have given all that you owned for us."
Babette turns toward the two pious sisters and smiles. "It wasn't just for you."
Martine, her eyes full of pity says to her, "Now, you'll be poor for the rest of your life."
Babette face shines on them with that magnetic glance. "An artist is never poor."
Philippa, starting to see the longer arc of Babette's story asks, "Did you prepare that sort of dinner at the Cafe Anglais?" Babette nods, reflecting for a moment on a life long passed.
"I was able to make them happy when I gave of my very best."
Philippa finally comprehends who Babette is and what she has done, and she says to her, "But this is not the end, Babette. I am certain it is not. In paradise, you will be the great artist God meant you to be. Ah, how you will enchant the angels."
Next week, followers of Jesus around the world will observe what is called Holy Week. It is the high feast of the Christian church year, celebrating who Jesus is and what He has done for us by His death and resurrection. If you haven't assembled with the church for a while, or you attend every week, go and gather with some local followers of Jesus, be swept up into the longer arc that is Jesus' story. See and hear again all that He suffered, how although He was rich, He became poor for you, He gave you His best.
But when you see Him on the chopping block, exhausted and expended, know that He didn't do it for your pity. He did it out of love, out of the extravagant generosity of God, His Father. He did it because He is the Artist, the Creator who, even after giving everything, still has more to give. And though none of us can fully comprehend what He is even now preparing for us, Jesus spares no expense. He keeps on giving His best, Himself, His body and blood, His very life hidden in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
He gives and He gives and He gives—not just for you, but also for your neighbor, for the outcast and the stranger, for the foreigner and the foe, and even the ones who have betrayed you. He has given Himself for all, so that each of us by faith in Him will find ourselves at His table in His kingdom, when all things are put in their proper place. We will become like Him, the great artists, the great servants He meant for us to be.
Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, our Passover Lamb who was slain to set us free, help us stay with You as we remember your time of trial and lead us into the resurrection and the life of Your new creation, that we may eat and drink with You at Your table and your kingdom, because You live and You reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for April 3, 2022
Title: This Is the Feast
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. Up next, we talk with theologian, teacher, and Bible commentary author, Dr. Jeff Gibbs. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. Once again here's our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. Today I'm visiting with Dr. Jeff Gibbs. He's an emeritus professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and he teaches classes still about life with God as He's revealed Himself in Jesus and through the New Testament. Thank you for joining us, Jeff.
Jeff Gibbs: Thank you, Mike. It's a great pleasure to be here talking with you.
Mike Zeigler: Jeff, as you know, we have been listening to this epic, ancient biography of Jesus called the Gospel according to Luke. And now we've reached these final climactic chapters and we're talking about Luke 23. There's a lot going on in these scenes: We've got Judas who betrays Jesus. We've got Simon Peter who denies him, servant girl who prompts Peter, then there's the other apostles who abandon Jesus, the chief priest, the temple guards, several crowds, lots going on. What does Luke's narrative uniquely reveal about all these dark forces gathering against Jesus?
Jeff Gibbs: That's a great question, Mike. And I like the way you ask it, but in order to answer the question, I want to go back to Luke 4, to the account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. At the very end, St. Luke writes these words. "And when the devil had ended every temptation he departed from Him until an opportune time."
Now we go forward to Luke 22. The third verse of that chapter says this. "Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve." Now it's time. This is the opportune time. Satan hates God. He hates God's Son, and he will do everything he can to destroy God's plan and God's Son. And so, are the disciples responsible for what they do? Of course, they are. Are the religious leaders responsible? Are they participating in this great act of rebellion whereby they reject the Son of God? Of course, they are participating in that. But behind it all is the great adversary himself, "the mystery of evil," as a friend recently called it.
Luther reminds us that there is a Holy Trinity and an unholy trinity. That is to say, there's our flesh, which is our sinfulness, and of course we need to speak good news, well, Law and Gospel to that issue and that problem, but then there's also the devil and the world. And Luke's passion narrative really emphasizes that behind these other human actors is the figure of Satan himself come to destroy Jesus. God is allowing, evil to come against Jesus, the perfectly innocent Son of God. And that's the strange and wonderful way that God is going to save us and the world.
Mike Zeigler: There's multiple ways to get at this, to understand what's happening. So, of course, the Bible will speak of Jesus' death as canceling a debt that we incurred against God, a debt of sin on the cross, or that Jesus takes our place as the guilty party under God's judgment, those are all scriptural ways of speaking of Jesus' death.
Jeff Gibbs: Yes.
Mike Zeigler: But Luke seems to be describing Jesus' death from another vantage point.
Jeff Gibbs: Correct. And it's not that those other vantage points are not present. I think they are present. But the major melody, if I could call it that way, or the major theme, is this contest between evil and innocence.
Mike Zeigler: How does Luke's way of seeing it and saying it help the followers of Jesus today in a unique way?
Jeff Gibbs: It gives us hope that the God whom we worship is a God who cares about the world. He hates injustice. He wants the right to come out. And so not only will He put us in the right, and here's the familiar word, not only will He "justify" us because of Jesus, but He calls us as the church to be a community that cares also about the right and about opposing wickedness and injustice. And He promises that the day is coming. We look around us and we see so much evil in the world still, the closer you look, the more you see. It's easy to get discouraged, but that's what hope does. Hope encourages us, and it also invites us to believe even in ways that we can't see that God is at work, even sometimes actually to use the injustice. Now, we can't use that as an excuse not to seek to do what's right, but He used the greatest injustice of all to save us. Can I believe that God is at work even in what looks like the darkest places? And the answer is yes, because in the darkest place of all there He was at work.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you so much for talking with us about this. And we're going to keep listening to this account, these climactic chapters of Luke's narrative and walk through the darkness and see how God makes it right. Thanks for joining us.
Jeff Gibbs: You're very welcome.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"My Song Is Love Unknown" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)