It is said that one of Pope Francis’ favourite films is Babette’s Feast. I think I know why. It is a wonderful tale of how the Kingdom of God is lived in our ordinary lives.
The story tells of a group of good people who are trapped in a prison of their own making. The joy and love has gone out of the lives of their small community of Christians in an isolated fishing village in Denmark. The Kingdom of God seems far away from them.
A French woman, Babette, who has come as an exile and refugee to their community, decides to cook a special meal for them all. When the time of the feast comes Babette has lived for years within the tiny village, serving the people there. She has been humble. It is realised after the feast that Babette has not given just from her surplus but rather she has spent the entirety of her recent lottery winnings on the feast. She has given her all.
The beauty of life and community is what overcomes the conspiracy of silence on the part of the diners. Babette does not preach at them, rather she invites them to the beauty of the feast and it is this lived enjoyment that melts away their distrust and even enables them to find healing and forgiveness in their lives. They experience the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached!
In this wondrous meal, the isolated and lonely are initiated into the delights of enjoying the pleasures of life. Babette’s gifts break down their distrust and superstitions, elevating them physically and spiritually. Old wrongs are forgotten, ancient loves are rekindled, and a mystical redemption of the human spirit settles over the table. The colour palette of the movie changes to warmer hues as the taste palates of these grace-starved people are delighted and they are transformed into a new community.
In the movie Babette’s Feast, Gabriel Axel creates a human and moving image of the Kingdom of God we speak of in our Credo. We are shown how the Kingdom of God sometimes breaks into this fragmented world of ours.
Such a feast (intimately linked symbolically to the Eucharist) is a very appropriate image of God’s Kingdom for us today.
It is an event which necessarily requires community; it is an occasion of abundance, even extravagance; and it is also a time when the demands of daily existence are temporarily suspended, and one is given the opportunity to relax in the grace of the world. To feast is to be re-oriented. To feast is to experience simultaneously intimacy, community and divinity.
It is one way we live out our faith in the Kingdom that will have no end.
It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.
R.S. THOMAS ‘The Kingdom’, MacMillan 1972. © Kunjana Thomas 2001. Reprinted with permission.
This article is part of a series of reflections entitled ‘I Believe…Help My Unbelief’: Meditations on the Creed by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.