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No matter the dessert, be thankful for the company you eat with

Frederick Niedner

Frederick Niedner

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Updated: December 19, 2012 12:57PM



Tradition will pretty much dictate the guest lists and menus many of us will enjoy during the annual season of feasting we’ll enter in these next days. It goes without saying that most who can afford it will sit down to a meal of turkey Thursday, but every table also has its own, unique requirements. In my home, we wouldn’t think of having Thanksgiving dinner without Carrie Klein’s cranberry-raspberry relish or Aunt Gracie’s pecan pie.

We have a few options, of course, although they generally involve such things as the attitudes we’ll choose this time around when this cousin or that in-law starts in with the usual song and dance that always sets our teeth to grinding. Shall we exercise patience and show mercy this year, or in the end send everyone home with multiple kinds of heartburn?

The wisdom I seek to learn and teach in my day job as a biblical scholar suggests there are essentially two kinds of feasts among human beings. Not surprisingly, the distinguishing characteristic is dessert.

The one feast begins as a royal birthday party — for King Herod to be exact. As entertainment while the guests eat, Herod’s beautiful stepdaughter dances. Her performance so pleases Herod that he promises her anything, even half his kingdom. The girl is young and has no use for half a kingdom, so she seeks the advice of her mother, who knows exactly what to ask. The mother has an enemy, a persistent critic, John the Baptist. This cranky prophet has roundly rebuked Herod for stealing away his brother’s wife, who is also a niece to both men, and marrying her. At this bitter woman’s insistence, the prophet now languishes downstairs in the palace prison.

“Ask for the head of John on a platter,” the mother instructs her daughter, who relays the request. Reluctantly, the king makes good on his promise, and the annoying critic becomes the feast’s dessert.

Gruesome as it initially sounds, isn’t that the sweetest, most delectable finish imaginable for a feast? Who among us hasn’t wished for the head of some opponent on a platter, a moment when we can celebrate some old nemesis’ downfall?

In the aftermath of our recent, too-long election season, dishes of this kind will undoubtedly appear on plenty of tables around the nation this year. Where they don’t, folks will make vows to have them next time, and lick them clean.

In the Bible’s telling, the very next scene finds 5,000 or so hungry people more or less stranded in the wilderness with nothing to eat. Again, the host is a king, or one who will soon be tabbed as such, although his crown and throne will be a cruel joke. No one dances, but the soon-to-be king fellow gives thanks for the ridiculously meager supply of food available and passes it around. Somehow, everyone seems to get enough, and no one appears to know where it all came from.

Significantly, there is no dessert. Or maybe the whole thing is dessert. The sweetness comes not in someone losing, or even in someone winning, but merely in being together and having enough of whatever it is that allows us to be thankful.

Much as I sometimes crave the dessert served up in Herod’s palace, what makes life worth living, and the gift of getting to be a human being on this Earth eternally meaningful, is not who wins or loses or exactly how long one lives, but who we get to be with, eat with day after day, and give thanks with night after night, year after year.



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