Narrative Lectionary Reflection
December 17, 2017
Food seems to be a major theme that runs throughout the Bible. Earlier in the season, we heard the story of how God provided manna to the people of Israel as they traveled to the Promised Land.
The sense of journey is also a theme in the Bible. There was the journey to the promised land. Now we hear the time of exile and the journey back.
In today’s text we see those two themes coming together. There is a lot of talk about a feast for the people in the context of getting ready or coming back to Israel. God calls the people then and today to come to the feast. Today we talk about the people of Israel joining the feast of God.
Engaging the Text
Seek the Lord when he can still be found;
call him while he is yet near.
The book of Isaiah is actually 3 books in one. First Isaiah includes the first 39 chapters and talks about life in the Southern Kingdom of Judah before it fell to Babylon. Second Isaiah is from chapter 40 to 55 and deals with the exile in Babylon and later Persia. Third Isaiah goes from chapter 56 to the end, chapter 66 and deals with the time when the Jews returned to their homeland. So chapter 55 is taking place during the exile, but in some cases, the exile was close to ending. They had spent time in Babylon who did not treat the Jews with respect and then when Babylon fell, they lived in exile in Persia. Their new king, Cyrus, is a more inclusive person, allowing for the conquered peoples to worship their own God.
Chapter 55 are also the closing words of the writer of Second Isaiah. The last words in any document are going to have a punch, something that the writer wants the readers to remember. That’s what we encounter in this passage.
In Jeremiah 29, God speaks through the prophet that the newly exiled Israelites are to make a life in Babylon. God would bring the people back to the Israel, but not right now. In this passage, we can see that now is the time to come home. The people are to come back to Jerusalem where God will give the returning exiles a feast. Bread, milk, water, all of this will be given to the people- and there is nothing that they have to do to receive it (any early understanding of grace). A meal can be a sign of coming home and this is what is happening here; God is leading the people home where they can have a hot meal after a time of trauma.
The food is also a covenant. God is establishing a new covenant with David, meaning the Davidic dynasty. At least that is what it should have been. God isn’t talking about a restoration of the royalty, but the covenant is now with the entire people of Israel. The covenant is not with one person, but with the whole people and the feast is a sign of that bond between God and Israel.
But as they enter Jerusalem, they are also called to change their lives. Note that God doesn’t say, “change your ways and I will feed you,” God gives the meal no matter what. But if they enter God’s presence, they should change their ways. Notice that the word “wicked” is used in verse 7. Theologian Walter Brueggeman thinks it is not referring to disobedience but to something else related to the exile:
“The wicked,” I suggest, are not disobedient people in general. In context, they are those who are so settled in Babylon and so accommodated to imperial ways that they have no intention of making a positive response to Yahweh’s invitation to homecoming. That is, they have no “thought” of enacting Jewish passion for Jerusalem. To “return” to Yahweh here means to embrace fully the future that Yahweh is now offering. This “return” is not simply a spiritual resolve but the embrace of a new hope and a new historical possibility that entails a dramatic reorientation of life in political, public categories. Those who have excessively accommodated the empire are indeed to be pardoned. But pardon requires serious resolve for a reordered life commitment.
So God’s action calls for a response. God calls the people to repent, to change their ways and follow God. They were used to the ways of Babylon, but that time is now over and it is time to come home.
16 When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi.
While the writer is not thinking about Jesus or the church (and it is important to remember that), Christians can look at this passage and see how it can relate. The meal in the chapter sound a lot like communion. We are offered a meal and we do this with the bread and the wine. There is nothing we have to do to accept this meal, but it is a sign of God’s grace. God grace can drive us to a response, to seek to live righteously.
In the 1997 document The Use and Means of Grace, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America explains what communion is all about; gathering for a meal, the confession of sins and our need for God:
The simple order of our liturgy of Holy Communion , represented in the worship books of our church, is that which has been used by generations of Christians. We gather in song and prayer, confessing ou r need of God. We read the Scriptures and hear them preached. We profess our faith and pray for the world, sealing our prayers with a sign of peace . We gather an offering for the poor and for the mission of the Church . We set our table with bread and wine, give thanks and praise to God, pro – claiming Jesus Christ, and eat and drink. We hear the blessing of God and are sent out in mission to the world .
The people of Israel were called by God to come home to a marvelous feast and learn again the ways of God. We are also called home each week to a feast where we also learn the ways of God and seek to be Christ’s people in the world, drawing everyone to Jesus.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century and the Federalist.