One of the focuses of my Tuesday night Bible class, The Jewish Context of the Bible, was the Essenes. I always write a follow-up post regarding the topic of that week’s discussion that goes deeper than I was able to in class. The follow-up post for the Essenes lesson was The Essenes and the Messianic Banquet (Part 1) and I discovered there was much more than I could write into one post, so I left you hanging. Well, here’s the rest of it. If you haven’t already read the first one, you’ll understand this better if you go back and read it, and also if you listen to the Essenes Audio Lesson.
As we talked about in part one, the idea of the Messianic Banquet was strongly entrenched in the culture of first century Judaism. A feast, banquet, or wedding, was a favorite metaphor of Jesus’, so now let’s compare the Essene Messianic Banquet to the one Jesus talked of.
In The Rule of Congregation (known as 1QSa), we find the description of the banquet. Interestingly, the very first thing it goes into is who will not be allowed to participate in the Messianic banquet. They believed that the “Last Days” were rapidly coming and so they had to decide who would be allowed to come and fully partake in the banquet and who would not, and of what importance each person would be of at the table. 1QSa 1:1-2:20 gives an interesting description of the roles in the future Messianic kingdom, depicted by what order you are sitting at the banquet. In ancient times, people would sit in order of importance at banquets. In the case of the Essene Messianic Banquet, it was based primarily on age with the older men taking the progressively higher spots. It is therefore interesting to remember that Jesus said on the matter:
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)
Next we find who will be excluded from that final banquet in 1QSa 2:5-8. Ritual purity was of chief importance to these people, and it was believed that anyone who was disabled was because of sin, and they would therefore not have a seat at the coming banquet:
“No man with a physical handicap-crippled in both legs or hands, lame, blind, deaf, dumb or possessed of a visible blemish in his flesh- or a doddering old man unable to do his share in the congregation- may en[ter] to take a place in the [messianic banquet].” (1QSa 2:5-8 QUMENG, substitution mine 1.)
Notice how the old, blind, deaf, lame, and sick were excluded from the Essene Messianic Banquet. In stark contrast we see the Messianic Banquet of Jesus:
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14.)
In Jesus’ banquet, everyone is invited, especially those of less fortune. Jesus follows up this command with a parable (Luke 12:15-24) where the invited guests turn down the invitation and so he goes to the streets and alleys and invites the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. I think here Jesus is “sticking it” to the Essenes. The Essenes thought they had it all down – they even had a rulebook for who would participate in the coming Messianic Banquet and what order of importance you would be in. But Jesus said that those who were invited (the super religious elite) turned down the request, and now the very opposite of what they thought the banquet would look like will come true. Jesus again turns the world on its head with a major reversal of fortune.
The Essenes thought they had it all right. They even thought they knew who would be at the final banquet with the Messiah, and yet they ended up turning down the invitation. Do you think that you have it all right? Do you think that you know who will be “saved” and who will not? Perhaps you too have already turned down the Messiah’s invitation and now he seeks the people who you would consider unfit to attend – the prostitute, the drug dealer, the gang member, the rapist, and the rest of what our society sees as contemptible. I pray that we all accept Jesus’ invitation to the banquet in his Kingdom where everyone is invited and the last (least) shall be made first (greatest).
Peace to you,
1. Schiffman, Eschatological Community, 9. Where is substituted “messianic banquet” the actual text is “congregation of the m[e]n of reputation”, which is their “code” for the messianic banquet.