Banquets and veils

Listening to the first reading this weekend, from Is 25, I was struck by this imagery that appears in Is 25:7, after the description of the rich banquet:

On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations

What veil? What web? What interesting language! What is going on here?

The words translated in the NABre as “veil” (Strong’s H3875, lowt) and “web” (Strong’s H4541, maccekah), are translated variously in different English translations:

H3875, “veil”: covering, cloud, shroud, wrapping

H4541, “web”: veil, shadow, sheet, covering

Oddly, none of the translations bring out the fact that H4541 is used far more often in the sense of a “molten image” than in the sense of a covering. In fact, only in Isaiah is the word translated this way at all. The other 25 references refer to idol worship.

H3875, on the other hand, is the noun form (appearing only here) of the verb H3874, which always means to cover or to wrap. Both the noun and the verb are used in this verse (“the covering that covers”, more or less).

I wonder, then, if Isaiah was saying that on that day, the LORD will destroy the idolatry that catches and constrains us, and keeps us snared in death, hidden away from the living God.

The Jewish Study Bible has a note on the word H4541: “Covering: when the new cosmic order emerges, the illusions that befuddle the nations will disappear, and the survivors from all nations will enjoy access to true teachings, which emanate from the God of Zion.” (JPS, 2004, note 7, p832)

From a Girardian perspective, the destruction of, not the idols themselves, but idolatry, the disordered pattern of desire that keeps us caught up in violence, makes perfect sense as a reading of what will happen on that day.

The refrain for psalm 23 that is our response to this reading is “I will dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.” This too is consistent with a reordering of our desires.

The gospel this week is a tough one; I was especially uncomfortable hearing this text, that has so often been given a superccessionist reading, while our Jewish brothers and sisters were gathered in an adjacent room of our interfaith center for the closing services of Yom Kippur. But context helps:

– this parable is likely from Q, and enhanced by Matthew into a more polemical shape directed at the circumstances of the Matthean community: the opponents of Jesus include the Pharisees, who were not in power during Jesus’ preaching but were by the time Matthew was written; and the destruction in Matthew’s version seems to be an allusion to the destruction of the Second Temple around 70 CE.

– This reading (Mt 22:1-14) comprises the third and fourth parables in a series that we’ve been hearing for the past few weeks. Last week, it was Jesus’ audience, the religious authorities, who introduced retributive violence in the first place, when Jesus asks them what the landowner should do in response to the tenants who killed his son. He should use violence against them, they reply. Remembering this made it easier for me to accept the violence of the king in the parable that Jesus tells here. Still, it’s very striking that according to these parables, what is expected of the righteous is not just that we give God what God is owed, as in last week’s story, but also that we accept from God the gifts that God chooses to bestow upon us.

– The final verses, 11-14, are considered to be a separate parable; they don’t appear in Luke. The homily I heard explained some important cultural context: in those days, if you were invited to a wedding feast (and especially a royal wedding feast), if you didn’t have a wedding garment, you could borrow one when you got there — rather like fancy restaurants will lend a tie to gentlemen who arrive for dinner without one, or like a funeral home will provide yarmulkes for Jewish funerals.

So that provides a very different context: it’s not that this poor fellow just didn’t have a fancy outfit and was tossed out for his insufficient wardrobe. It’s that the fellow, having accepted the honor of the invitation, refused to accept the additional loan of a garment intended to allow him to honor the bride and groom in return. It speaks of a lack of whole-heartedness, or a lack of commitment, in the acceptance of the invitation.

I’m reminded here of the baptismal garment and what it symbolizes (“You have put on Christ, in him you have been baptized”), as well as the wrapping from the Isaiah reading. Clothing ourselves in Christ is part of the practice that makes it possible for us to want to come to the banquet, to remain at the banquet, and to rejoice at the banquet. Christ provides the mimetic model that can free us from the disordered desires of violence and idolatry; and it is by putting on this baptismal garment, this wedding garment, in place of the veil that covers all the nations, that we are made capable of a wholehearted desire for God, as in the words that introduce Luke’s version of this parable: “Happy are those who are called to this supper.”

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One Response to Banquets and veils

  1. Chris says:

    I wondered the same thing about the “veil” – after reading your post I will think on it some more.

    I had a thought about the gospel. My impression was that the first punishment (when He sends his troops in anger) was like a tribulation, but the second punishment (the treatment of the ‘friend’ with no wedding garment) – that was like the second death.

    I believe the second punishment refers to The Judgement.

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