PREPARE A TABLE:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. -Psalm 23:5
For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. -Luke 22:27
Thanks to its elegant simplicity and comforting promises, the 23rd Psalm has a favored status among Christians throughout history. And deservedly so—in a world that so often roils with chaos and fear, the image of God as a persistent and attentive caregiver is one that resonates with our need for security. But there are challenges tucked into it, as well, hiding in plain sight among the soothing pastoral imagery.
For instance, how often have we uttered these words without pinning them to the centrality of ‘the table’ within the Christian faith?
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
For most of my life I’ve viewed this verse as a display of the security of God’s people no matter the ill will of “The World,” a testament to the unceasing nature of divine care: no matter the circumstances, no matter who is present and hostile, our God provides! And that’s certainly an important element, one to which we can cling when it appears that we are beset from all sides.
However, the question arises: to what purpose is this table prepared?
I submit that if we are truly to follow Christ as we pray this Psalm, we must look at his actions at the table prepared for him. Among his disciples as one who serves, he poured himself out, offered himself broken and torn, and commanded them to do this in remembrance of him. In imitation of him, we—as the body of Christ—are commanded not only to eat artisan bread and drink sugar-laden grape juice in remembrance of Jesus’s last supper with his disciples but to consider ourselves to be the broken bread, the spilled out wine, the sustenance direly needed by a broken world.
We are called to the table prepared in the presence of our enemies, not to gloat at our own security but rather to invite them to share in its blessings, often at our own expense.
We really are meant to actively love our enemies, and do good—true, ultimate, costly good—to those we would call enemies.
One of the defining elements of our culture is enmity. Whether it’s as innocuous as cheering for the wrong team or as deadly serious as voting along the implied party lines of the wrong news channel, we define so many of our interactions in stark, adversarial terms. And in an age in which 140-character soundbites make up a lion’s share of discourse, genuine discussion of differences is often abandoned in favor of shouting catchphrases across a seemingly unbridgeable divide of opinion-generated righteousness.
But Christ does bridge that divide. His body was broken, his blood poured out not for members of our favored political party, not for people of similar cultural tastes, not for those who share our interests and opinions and socio-economic status, but for the world, the great, pulsing, broken, beautiful world of humanity.
We as Christians must make it a priority to pull out the chairs at the table thus provided, to invite those standing around it to sit and be served, to ask them about their lives and stories and listen to their answers. What would it mean for us to engage so compassionately with our “enemies” that we actively tried to understand the reasoning behind our differences, and perhaps even open our minds and hearts to the possibility that we might be on the wrong side of one or another issue?
The table is prepared every day; let us serve and be broken in imitation of our King. For only then may we find that those who we thought were enemies are really just brothers and sisters that we hadn’t yet taken the time to meet.