Babette’s Feast

The past couple of blog posts focused on the goodness of God – Taste and See and God is Good. So What? At the end of God is Good. So What? I indicated that we would consider Babette’s Feast and how it relates to experiencing God’s goodness. Babette’s Feast is a little-known short story written in the mid-20th century, later turned into a film in the 1980s. It’s a great little story, filled with metaphorical symbolism, and well worth the time to read or watch.

Babette’s Feast is an 18th-century story of two spinster sisters who lived in a small coastal village in Denmark.  They had committed together to care for the small and dwindling parish that their late father had founded. Both had opportunities to leave the village, but at their father’s request, they stayed to help care for the community, even beyond his death.

One day, at the request of an acquaintance, the sisters agreed to take in Babette Hersant, a refugee of the French revolution, employing her as a cook.  They taught Babette to cook the cod and bread the way they always prepared it – dry and bland.  What they didn’t know was that Babette was a very good (tov meod) cook.  Before escaping Paris, Babette had been the head chef at one of the most famous Parisian cafés.

Unbeknownst to Babette, in her absence, someone continued to pay her annual entrance in the Lottery – which she won!  The sisters and community folks all assumed that Babette would use the winnings to return to France.  She did not. Instead, she used all of her winnings to put on a dinner of gratitude in honor of the sisters’ father’s 100th birthday.  She spent all of her winnings on an extravagant meal for a dozen people.

One of the guests at the dinner was a visiting general who had spent a fair amount of time dining at the finest cafés of Paris.  Familiar with the pallets and fare of the locals, he was prepared for a typical bland meal.  Babette’s feast was far from bland. Course after course, the general was astonished by the taste and quality – taste and quality he was familiar with.  He appreciated and savored every morsel. He knew an outstanding meal when he was presented with one.

The townspeople, however, merely tolerated the unusual fare of Babette’s Feast.

God’s goodness surpasses all that we can imagine.  Tasting and seeing, asking, seeking, and knocking opens our eyes to a goodness that exceeds our limited imaginations and expectations.  If we are not consistently tasting and seeking the goodness of God, I wonder if there is the possibility that we won’t know it when it shows up.  Something to ponder.

Addendum September 7, 2022. I just read this today from Luke 5 in The Voice*:

Look, nobody tears up a new garment to make a patch for an old garment. If he did, the new patch would shrink and rip the old, and the old garment would be worse off than before. And nobody takes freshly squeezed juice and puts it into old, stiff wineskins. If he did, the fresh wine would make the old skins burst open, and both the wine and the wineskins would be ruined. New demands new—new wine for new wineskins. Anyway, those who’ve never tasted the new wine won’t know what they’re missing; they’ll always say, “The old wine is good enough for me!” (Luke 5:36-39)

* Ecclesia Bible Society. The Voice Bible, eBook: Step Into the Story of Scripture (p. 1247). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

God is Good. So What?

In the previous post, Taste and See, we started a conversation about God’s goodness, and what it means when we say “God is Good.” When leading small groups, I like to follow discovery with application – What we just discovered followed by “Now What?” or “So What?” In the last post, we discussed the intrinsic goodness of God. A great “So What” question might be…

How does one know and experience the goodness of God?

Let’s start by looking at something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount related to God’s goodness:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil (sinful), know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)

This passage is notoriously misused, especially if we tend to lean toward a gospel of prosperity.   “Ask and seek” followed by “receive and find” coupled with that statement of a Father in heaven who gives good gifts – we immediately assume this passage is about asking for and getting stuff from God. 

A good Father doesn’t give his kids what they want.  He gives them what they need, what is good for them.  The Amplified translation helps us see how Jesus describes the goodness of God…

11 If you then, sinful by nature as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give what is good and advantageous to those who keep on asking Him.

Keep in mind the context of Jesus’ words.  They are part of the Sermon on the Mount.  In that famous sermon, Jesus was describing to his followers what life in God’s economy looks like.  And the life he described was proving to be significantly different from anything they had heard before from their religious teachers. 

These words about asking and receiving are found deep into the “Sermon.”  He had already told them of their call to be salt and light to the world.  As salt and light, he suggested they love their enemies (likely the Roman occupiers).  And by the way, if a Roman soldier forced them to carry his pack for a mile, he suggested they carry it a second mile.  He had admonished his followers to not judge others.  Oh, and also that they could live without worrying.

I can envision his followers looking at each other, wondering how they could live and operate in such a manner – an obvious question.  A question anyone of us might ask. I wonder if Jesus might have been saying to his disciples (and to us) to ask and seek the answers to their questions about kingdom living.  I wonder if Jesus might have been saying that God will honor your seeking and asking, giving you what is good and advantageous so that you can live without worrying or judging others; so that you can actually learn to love your enemies.

He wouldn’t suggest such things if he didn’t also provide a way for us to live thusly.

So, how does one know and experience the Goodness of God? What does that look like practically?   In the last post, we looked at Psalm 34: Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him (34:8). Out of his experiences with God, David was saying to the rest of his religious community, “Taste and see if I’m not right.  Taste and see for yourself that the Lord is indeed good.” 

What does taste and see look like?  What is something that you love to eat or drink that you had to develop a taste for?”  We don’t acquire a taste by trying something once. It comes with time and consistency. And with surprise.  I think that’s what Jesus was communicating in the Matthew passage…

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  (Matt. 7:7-8)

Asking is not a one-off query.  Nor is seeking or knocking.  Ask, seek and knock are imperatives.  An example of an imperative might be “Shut the front door when the air conditioner is on.” However, ask, seek and find are present imperatives as in, “Always shut the front door when the air conditioner is on.”  So here it means ALWAYS be asking, seeking, knocking.  The Amplified translation captures the essence of the present imperative…

 7 “Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you.  (AMP)

David understood this as well when he said, I sought the Lord, and he answered me (Psalm 34:4). The Hebrew word for sought implies following, not a one-off query of God.  David was a follower – he sought the Lord on a continuous basis.  Thus David was able to experience the Lord’s presence and goodness in the midst of running for his life from King Saul.

Followership is key to knowing and experiencing the goodness of God.  Unfortunately, we Westerners find following rather difficult because…

  • Following implies a life-long process of discovery.  We would rather have the answers and outcomes now.  My educator friends fully understand this! Standardized testing flies in the face of discovery.
  • Following is unpredictable because we are following a Jesus that is unpredictable.  Remember The Chosen?  “Get used to different.”  By the way, though Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), he’s certainly not predictable.
  • Westerners prefer clarity.  Following is about trust.  Trust and clarity tend to be at odds with each other. Example…

Toward the end of his life, the late ethicist and professor Fr. John Kavanaugh, went to Calcutta to seek an audience with Mother Teresa.  He was desiring to find out how to best spend the remainder of his life.  When he met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”

“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”  Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for.  Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.

Trust is central to following. And following is central to tasting and seeing, knowing and experiencing the goodness of God.  And the best way I know how to do that is by spending large amounts of time with the embodied goodness of God – Jesus.

Next: Babette’s Feast and how it relates to experiencing God’s goodness.