The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—they protect me.
You set a table for me right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live.
Psalm 23 (CEB)
Psalm 23 could be one of the most recognized verses in the whole of Scripture. Definitely up there with the ranks of John 3:16. The issue with these familiar verses is that they can become overly sentimentalized and domesticated. Or, in other words, they stop shaking us up. While I’m okay with the Bible being used to help and give comfort in times of need, I am much more of a fan when it forces us to see the world in a new way. I find myself to be much more inspired by its words when it challenges my perceptions and pushes me to try and see the world from God’s perspective not my own, limited and admittedly selfish perspective. With that said, one line in this Psalm today shined through in a way that I had not considered before.
You set a table for me right in front of my enemies.
Whenever I heard this verse talked or preached about, I felt like it was always taught with a twinge of gloating. Like, “Look at this beautiful table God sets in spite of being surrounded by enemies.” Or, even as a triumphal table set in front of defeated enemies. Those images just did not jive for me as I read it this time through. I started to think about various tables elsewhere in the Bible to see if I could let the Bible lead me to an image. What tables set with food are important in the Bible? Especially those that happened to be set near some enemies. It did not take long before my mind began imaging the Passover tables of the Israelites set in Egypt. On the eve of their deliverance from Egypt, the Israelites eat a humble meal of roast lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The blood of the lamb was painted on their doorposts to mark houses that the Lord would “pass over”.
I’ll pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I’ll strike down every oldest child in the land of Egypt, both humans and animals. I’ll impose judgments on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be your sign on the houses where you live. Whenever I see the blood, I’ll pass over you. No plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
Exodus 12:12-13 (CEB)
The Passover table was one set in the midst of enemies. It was not a table of gloating or victory, but it was probably set with a bit of fear and humility. It was a table set to signify the freedom from slavery God was about to lead his chosen people into. Even today, Passover celebrations are typically marked by solemn reflection on the memory of the first Passover. There are no fireworks like July 4th. There are no rousing nationalistic hymns or songs. Just the foundational phrase…
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.
From thinking about the Passover meal, I also began thinking about Jesus with his disciples at the Lord’s Supper. This was the last meal he was to eat with them and by all accounts, it was most likely the Passover meal. Here, there is definitely a table set in the presence of enemies. The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem were outside conspiring how they might kill Jesus. The Roman authorities were warily watching all the Passover celebrations, expecting an uprising. And, right there in the room with Jesus, is his betrayer. This is a table truly set in the presence of enemies. However, this is not a triumphal table for boasting. Instead, it’s the table where Jesus proclaims.
“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Luke 22:19-20 (CEB)
It’s at this table where Jesus points to the sacrifice he is about to make. It is at this table where the salvation of the cosmos is brought into focus and opened up to all. The bread and wine are offered to all around the table.
Betrayers, deniers, boasters, sinners and deserters one and all.
The Passover table Jesus sets in the presence of his enemies is one of sacrifice, not glory. The table is one of community not division. The table is set for all regardless of who they are, what they have done, where they are from and where they are going. At the first Passover, one did not necessarily have to be Jewish to be “passed over.” They just had to be around a table, in a house signified by the blood of the lamb.
In this Psalm today, “You set a table for me right in front of my enemies,” does not have to mean God sets us a table to gloat over our enemies. Maybe it means that God has set us a table so that we might invite our enemies to sit with us. Maybe the table is set not for exclusion but for inclusion? At God’s table, there is always an open chair which we might invite someone to join. Jesus demonstrates that the table is set and offered to enemies just as much as to friends.
The broken bread and common cup are shared with all who are willing to take a seat.