Psalm 23 is one of the most prolific poems of the Bible, familiar to many outside the Judeo-Christian tent. It’s a poem of reassurance, inviting us to join David as he rests in the comfort and guidance of God. We are not alone, this Psalm speaks softly to us. And not only will God guide and protect you, but God will flaunt your bounty in front of your foes!
I never stopped to think too critically about Psalm 23:5a, which reads in the New Revised Standard Version, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” and the taunting interpretation you see above was the one I just kind of accepted. Of course God wants me to triumph over my enemies! And maybe, in the context of David’s Israel, that interpretation makes sense. (Add that to the list of rabbit holes to fall in this week…)*
But the more I think about it, especially since listening to the “Strangely Warmed” podcast by Crackers & Grape Juice, the less that interpretation seems to fit with the God I perceive to be working in the world. God delivers us from evil, sure. God breaks the rod of the oppressors, yes (Isaiah 9:4).
The God who empowers us to walk without fear in the valley of the shadow of death is the One who leads us there in the first place. The Spirit that hovered over the waters of the Jordan and revealed Jesus’ identity as the Beloved is the same Spirit who leads him into the wilderness to be tested. The Jesus who stands atop the mountain transfigured is the same Jesus who descends willingly to the dead.
Acknowledging that God is working in my life and accepting the call to set God’s work as my determining priority is to acknowledge and accept that it is a call to struggle. It is a call to see and name suffering as well as healing, to point out the oppressor whose breaking rod we will celebrate. It is to love…our enemies…whoever and wherever they are—even when our enemy stares out at us from the mirror.
Moreover. This God is the one who sets a banquet and sends the servants into the streets to fill open seats (Matthew 22:9, Luke 14:21). This Jesus is the one who shares a table with tax collectors, outcasts, sex workers, the unclean. So, when God prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies, it’s facile and self-serving to assume that there is only one seat available—and that, by extension, the table has somehow become ours. This table, like the Table set for the Eucharist, like the heavenly banquet, is God’s table.
Now, I see a different table. This table is long and broad, groaning under the weight of the feast it holds. Chairs and benches extend in either direction, as far as the eye can see. It is a show of God’s provision and abundance, and of God’s boundless grace toward even those whom we consider to be our enemies. Our responsibility, as always, is to accept the invitation.
I’m still enough of a fool to believe that this vision is possible, that we can behold this table in the presence of our enemies and pull out a chair for one another as we gather to feast.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
An invitation, and a challenge. May we rise to meet it.
*This is a Christ-focused, non-exegetical reflection, for my academic and non-Christian (and academic non-Christian) friends. I mean it when I say I’ll be digging into the cultural context and would love your resources.