Babette’s Feast tells the tale of a pious man who starts a small congregation of fundamentalist believers. They live an austere life, shunning worldly pleasures and abstaining from marriage. The man has two daughters sought by impressive suitors, but the women remain unmarried. In time, the father dies. Without the father’s leadership, the little sect begins to die out also.
One night, the two sisters hear a knock at their door. They open it to find a French woman on their doorstep. She has almost nothing except a letter of recommendation written by a former suitor of one of the sisters, who now holds an important position in the French government. The woman, named Babette, lost her husband and son during the French civil war. The letter recommends Babette as a housekeeper. The sisters can’t afford to hire her, but she stays and cooks for the sisters and the poor people of the town in exchange for room and board.
One day, news arrives that Babette has won the lottery in Paris and would receive ten thousand French francs. Overjoyed by her good fortune, Babette insists upon cooking a proper French meal on the one hundredth birthday anniversary of the man who started the little religious community. The sisters agree, and soon, all kinds of exotic shipments begin to arrive. The residents don’t know what to make of it, but they don’t like it. They believe tongues were meant to praise the Lord, not enjoy sumptuous foods. They decide that they will eat the meal but say absolutely nothing on account of its extravagant nature.
During the meal, a visitor familiar with the foreign dishes praises the quality of the delicacies Babette serves. The villagers look around at each other, confused and perhaps a little embarrassed. They’ve never eaten food like this. In time, they, too begin to have their moods brightened.
As everyone leaves the table and departs for home, the sisters realize that no one said anything to Babette about the meal. They had sworn not to do so, but one of them thanks Babette for a nice dinner. They say that they will remember her after she has gone back to Paris. After all, the lottery has left her a wealthy woman with no reason to stay.
Babette says she will not be going back to the city. The people she loved have either left or died. Further, it would be too expensive. She spent all of her winnings on the ingredients for the feast.
I wonder if sometimes we aren’t a bit like the townsfolk eating that meal. They’ve never seen such an outpouring of exotic things. They didn’t even know how to appreciate what had been set in front of them properly. Similarly, you and I are unable to appreciate fully the rich and exotic gifts and blessings that God gives to us. Not merely once on an important anniversary, but every day. Each heartbeat, each breath of life is a gift that we routinely take for granted.
Christ pours out the riches of heaven for you and me. He spent his time on this earth ministering to people, leaving us priceless teachings concerning how to relate to one another and how to show our love to God and honor him. But he also comes to this earth to make atonement for our sins. To do this, he emptied himself and took the form of a servant, humbling himself to the point that he would die the most shameful death imaginable at the time (Philippians 2:5-8).
Christ’s sacrifice was a gift whose value exceeds our comprehension. I think Isaac Watts captured it best in the closing stanza of his hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.