Guests at the Banquet

#MidweekMeditation #LivingStories

Creation story #1 – continued (part 3)
Guests at the Banquet

This morning as I was having my coffee and letting my mind drift off into metaphysical questions (yeah, I’m like that), I stepped out into my back yard to enjoy the crisp chilly air and the early warmth of the sun. I glanced up and noticed the oranges and pinks of the sun just breaking over the rooftops and stood there for a few moments, taking it in. Beautiful. Awe. And I thought how (for that moment, at least) good life is.

At the same time that little voice in my head said, “yeah, because you’re comfortable. I bet people who are struggling don’t feel so great about life right now.” Okay. Probably true. I’m operating from a place of privilege, I get that. I wasn’t always here either. But even during the hardest periods in my life, there were times when I could look up and catch a glimmer of something beautiful and enjoy that moment.

This jumble of thoughts — of beauty and wonder and work and struggle — took me back again to the first creation story in Genesis. God had created everything and called it good. Then God created humanity and called everything very good. People have wondered for thousands of years about this. Why, in this story, is humanity created last? Rabbis and Jewish philosophers around the time of Jesus had a few thoughts on this detail, but the consensus seemed to be that God had created all this as a gift to present to humans. God “created the man with due deliberation: He first created his food requirements, and only then did He create him. … A tower full of good things and no guests — what pleasure has its owner in having filled it?” The Talmud suggests, “Our rabbis taught: Adam was created [last of all] on the eve of Sabbath. And why? … That he might straight-away go in to the banquet.” Philo of Alexandria, a Greek Jewish philosopher and contemporary of the Apostle Paul, wrote “Just as givers of a banquet do not send out the summonses to supper until they have put everything in readiness for the feast … exactly in the same way the Ruler of all things when about to invite man to the enjoyment of a feast and a great spectacle, made ready everything beforehand.”

This is the main idea: God is a gracious and generous Being who loves to share beautiful things with us. Or, put another way: there is no divine hostility directed at us — on the contrary, God has nothing but GOOD things intended for us.

This may all sound a bit like 21st century goodie-goodie thinking, but this subtle point made in our first creation story about the generosity and goodness of God jumps out even more when compared with other ancient creation myths from the time.

Cuneiform tablet with the Atra-Hasis epic in the British Museum

“Atrahasis,” for example, is an ancient Sumerian creation and flood story from about 2000 BC (from about the time of Abraham and Sarah), and it describes humans as being created to take over the menial tasks the lesser gods of the pantheon got tired of doing. “When the gods were in the manner of man, they did forced labor, they bore drudgery. Great indeed was the drudgery of the gods, the forced labor was heavy, the misery too much.” The junior deities complained and revolted. “Let Nin-tu [the birth-giver goddess] create a human, a man, and let him bear the yoke! Let him bear the yoke! Let man assume the drudgery of the gods.” And so one of the gods was sacrificed, and 7 men and 7 women were formed from the clay mixed with his flesh, blood and spirit. A Babylonian story, “Enuma Elish,” retells a similar scene. One of the gods is sacrificed for inciting rebellion, and out of clay mixed with his blood, human “savages” were formed. “I will knead blood and bone into a savage, ‘man’ shall be his name,” Marduk says, and “these men will do the divine assembly’s work. These savage-men will set the gods free [from their toils] that they may be at ease.” So “Ea, the wise, formed mankind from Kingu’s blood, and Marduk set them to work, and let free the gods. What an incredible accomplishment! … What a work of art!”

Not exactly an elevated view of humanity. I think I’ll stick with the Hebrew version.

If all that was a bit too academic (cuz, I spent years reading up on this stuff), here’s the takeaway, if you can accept it: The universe in all its splendor and glory was fashioned by an intelligent and benevolent Creator. And all with the intent of sharing it with YOU. You are the guest of the banquet. You are loved. And you are special. That’s how God sees you — no matter how you may feel at the moment, or what others may say.

You are a guest at the banquet. Let that be your daily affirmation.


refs: Genesis Rabbah 8:6; b.Sanhedrin 38a; Philo, On Creation 78; Atrahasis 1-4, a5-12; Enuma Elish VI:5-8, 23-42

Artwork: “Ocean,”  Public Co from Pixabay, cc.
Cuneiform tablet of Atrahasis, Epic of Gilgamesh, British Museum: Public Domain