You see, I have this good retired friend, Peter who lives in a lovely part of the world called Napa Valley, California. You know what he does in his free time? He is a host and wine taster at a well-known vineyard whose name I shall not divulge. Some while ago in an e-mail conversation I asked Peter whether wine tasting did not get a little boring after a few years. “Best job I ever had,” Peter replied; “you get to talk to people from all over the world and taste the kinds of wines only people from Saudi Arabia can afford!” “Great,” I said, “send me a case of that.” “Actually,” Peter admitted, that the long hours and endless small talk does get a little old. “It often seems,” he said, “that this is not the real world in which most people live and work; it is a world of dreams.”
I suspect there may be at least some people in the world who, unlike Peter, do dream about the best that life can offer: the best food, finest home and the most expensive wine. But, as my friend Peter admitted, all that does get a bit stale after a while. There must be something deeper and more lasting in this life than the taste of wine.
That anecdote came to mind as I read the first lesson for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary time. The prophet Isaiah assures his people who are in Babylonian exile that when they return to their homeland, life will seem like something out of their wildest dreams: “A feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” Isaiah, of course, is a poet, he speaks in metaphors. What he really means is that some day they will be free to go home, and life will once again resemble the best they can imagine.
Those exiles, of course, knew that, in the meantime, they would need to spend endless days walking across the hot desert sands, worrying how they would find food and water before they reached their homes; once there, they might find their homes in ruins.
It is at that point, of course, when life is most stressful, that thoughtful people resort to their deepest longings and ask what truly gives life meaning: not rich food and choice wine, but the freedom to live and work and worship as one has learned from childhood. In other words, Isaiah implies that it is under deep strain and anxiety that one begins to ask about life’s true meaning, about what is truly worth one’s time in the course of life’s search.
Interestingly, Jesus uses the same metaphor of a rich banquet to describe the kingdom of heaven.
Perhaps that must also be our task as we live in exile from the kingdom of God, the task being to discover the beautiful, the true and the good in the very context of daily life. All this may take considerable time and effort, the effort being to discover the true meaning of our life in contrast to the one that lasts only as long as a sip of wine
All that being said, I must still insist that a glass of Napa Valley Chardonnay with friends at end of day can come pretty close to what the kingdom of God may be like.
Scriptures for Oct. 12
Isaiah 25: 6-10
Philip. 4: 12-14, 19-20
Mathew 22: 1-14
The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese as director of pastoral education. He now lives in Notre Dame, Indiana.