Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 14:1-21) transports me to two scenes of hunger, one pacified by a platter of prophet head and the other by a bounty of bagels and lox. The two stories provide an interesting juxtaposition between the gross indulgences of royalty and the simple satisfactions of a peasant crowd. In the royal scene, there is Herod enjoying his birthday party in the palace with an ostentatious celebration of opulence. Salome teases him with her strip show, taking off veil after veil until she is in her own birthday suit. In his overexcited state, Herod promises her whatever she desires. Her mother, who has been the target of some prophetic tongue-lashing for her disregard of marriage laws, seizes the opportunity to silence the madman and has Salome ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. You might think Herod would be king enough to keep his cheerful spirit and come back with a witty one-liner – You want fries with that? or How about supersizing it? But the mood is lost and the pitiful king gets melancholy, realizing he can’t break a promise. What morality! Break a vow to your stripping step-daughter? No way. Decapitate a preaching prisoner? Ok. It’s a glimpse into the kingly code of honor. But it does help me realize why the National Association of Religious Professionals (NARP), which I joined back in the 80s just so I could have the card in my wallet, offered dismemberment insurance. John B could have used that. NARP’s marketing effort was back in the day when the software for mailing labels hadn’t figured out how to deal with a married couple with different last names, and direct mailers were always getting mine and Kim’s names wrong in some strange conglomeration of both our names, so the card (which I still have in my wallet), shows my name as Stank C. Dotson.
Moving on to the next meal scene. Jesus got word of the tragic death of his cousin and cohort in “crime” (according to the principalities of the time), and in his sorrow he withdrew for some solitude. It was not to be, for a mass of folks followed Him, and His raging sorrow morphed into compassion as He started healing the sick. He was still healing when the disciples’ stomachs started growling and they asked Jesus to send the po’ folks home where they could get some home cooking (and so the disciples could get a meal themselves). Jesus had other dining plans, though, and told the disciples they would be playing waiter for the evening, and he would be chief cook. And then, as if he were performing in an episode of Iron Chef, Jesus took the surprise ingredients of the day, fish and bread, and got down to business. Before serving up anything, He lifted up his eyes and returned thanks. We don’t know how He prepared the meal, only that He must have spread some extra Miracle Whip on the Filet O’ Fish sandwich, for five loaves and two fish wound up filling enough platters to satisfy the entire huddled mass of wretched refuse, teeming at Jesus’ shore. They ate and ate and as the disciples offered more, they no doubt gave their full bellies a pat and replied, Bafridikt! Satisfecho! I’m stuffed!
In thinking about these two stories side by side, the palace platter and the peasant platter, I am reminded of a slide show I saw a few years ago, taken from a book called Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. It shows fifteen families from around the world, with a week’s supply of the food they most commonly eat surrounding them. It also shows the cost of the week’s food, and it ranges from $1.23 to just over $500. Here is a link to the slide show, and if you get a chance to look at it, reflect on each family, look at their expressions. Imagine breaking bread at each table, from the most indulgent to the simplest fare. Imagine Jesus showing up for suppertime at each of the tables. What would the encounter be like? A good soundtrack to the slide show might be the U2 song based on this Passage from Matthew’s gospel. Anybody heard Salome from the Achtung Baby bootleg out-takes? Here are a couple of lines you can imagine Herod singing, complete with dark shades in his best Bono impersonation: Baby please don’t go, I got lies to feed. . . Baby I feel sick, don’t make me stick to my promise. . . shake it Salome, shake it. Until next time, ciao (or chow?)
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.