15 July 2018
Who would I invite to the banquet?
And who would I exclude?
Sunday 15 July 2018
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VII)
Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick
11.45 a.m.: The Choral Eucharist,
Broadcast Service, Recorded for RTÉ 1
Readings: Amos 7: 7-15; Psalm 85: 8-13; Ephesians 1: 3-14; Mark 6: 14-29
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Did you ever get mistaken for someone else?
Or, do you ever wonder whether the people you work with, or who are your neighbours, really know who you are?
Anthony Hope Hawkins, son of the Vicar of Saint Bride’s in Fleet Street, was walking home to his father’s vicarage in London one dusky evening when he came face-to-face with a man who looked like his mirror image.
He wondered what would happen if they swapped places, if this double went back to Saint Bride’s vicarage, while he headed off instead to the suburbs.
Would anyone notice?
It inspired him, under the penname of Anthony Hope, to write his novel, The Prisoner of Zenda.
I so often hear people expressing a lack of personal confidence when they are being complimented on some success or achievement. They so easily put themselves down with sayings such as: ‘If they only knew what I’m really like.’
What are you truly like?
Would you honestly want to swap your life for someone else’s?
Would you take on all their woes, and angsts and burdens, along with their way of life?
This is a recurring theme for poets, writers and philosophers, including John Donne, Izaak Walton, Shelley, Goethe and Dostoyevsky.
More recently, it was the theme in John Boorman’s movie The Tiger’s Tail (2006). Brendan Gleeson plays both the main character and his protagonist – is he his doppelgänger, a forerunner warning of doom, destruction and death? Or is he the lost twin brother who envies his achievements and lifestyle?
The doppelgänger was regarded as a harbinger of doom and death.
There is a way in which Saint John the Baptist is seen as the harbinger of the death of his own cousin, Christ.
As well as attracting similar followers and having similar messages, did these two cousins, in fact, look like one another physically?
Herod had known John the Baptist, he knew him as a righteous and a holy man. He protected him, and he even liked to listen to John.
So, how did Herod become confused about the identities of Christ and of John the Baptist?
Is Herod so truly deranged that he can believe someone he has executed, whose severed head he has seen, could come back to life in such a short period?
Or is Herod’s reaction merely one of exasperation and exhaustion: ‘Oh no! Not that John, back again!’
If Herod is deranged or exasperated, then his courtiers are confused. Some of them say Christ is Elijah, others say Christ is ‘a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ The old order is passing away, a new order is being ushered in as part of God’s great plans for humanity and for the whole of creation.
Even before John as the ‘forerunner’ was making way for Christ, God himself has planned for Christ’s followers to become members of his family, to be adopted as his children, a plan to unite all creation, all ‘heaven’ and ‘earth,’ in Christ.
In this way, we too are forerunners; we who know the wonder of God’s promises are the forerunners of those who will benefit from and be blessed by the completion of God’s eternal purposes, uniting all creation, all ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ (see Ephesians 1: 3-14).
To be a disciple is to follow a risky calling – or ought to be so. And with Herod’s maniacal and capricious ways, discipleship has become an even more risk-filled commitment.
But Herod’s horrid banquet runs right into the next story in Saint Mark’s Gospel, where Christ feeds the 5,000, a sacramental sign of the invitation to all to the heavenly banquet.
The invitation to Herod’s banquet, for the privileged and the prejudiced, is laden with the stench of death.
The invitation to Christ’s banquet, for the marginalised and the rejected, is laden with the promise of life.
Herod feeds the prejudices of his own family and a closed group of courtiers.
Christ shows that, despite the initial prejudices of the disciples, all are welcome at his banquet.
Herod is in a lavish palace in his city, but is isolated and deserted.
Christ withdraws to an open but deserted place to be alone, but a great crowd follows him.
Herod fears the crowd beyond his palace gates.
Christ rebukes the disciples for wanting to keep the crowds away.
Herod offers his daughter half his kingdom.
Christ offers us all, as God’s children, the fullness of the kingdom of God.
Herod’s daughter asks for John’s head on a platter.
Christ, on the mountainside, feeds all, and although all we can offer is five loaves and two fish, more than 5,000 are fed – and even then, 12 baskets are left over.
Saint Mark places these two stories, one after the other, so we can see the stark contrasts between two very different banquets.
During these tough times, people ought not be ashamed if they and their families need food and shelter. Everybody has the right to food and housing.
Our lives are filled with choices.
Herod chooses loyalty to his inner circle and their greed.
Christ tells his disciples to make a choice in favour of those who need food and shelter.
Herod’s banquet leads to destruction and death.
Christ’s banquet is an invitation to build the kingdom and to new life.
But how many of us in our lives would rather be at Herod’s Banquet for the few in the palace than to be with Christ as he feeds the masses in the wilderness?
Who would you invite to the banquet?
And who do you think still feels excluded from the banquet?
And so, may all we think, say and do be to praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Mark 6: 14-29:
14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ 15 But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’
17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ 23 And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ 24 She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale Group of Parishes. This sermon was recorded for a broadcast service on RTÉ 1 on Sunday 15 July 2018