First question – What is your favorite meal? Think big – the main course, the sides, condiments, and even desert. No need to calculate nutritional value or calories or points. This meal is hypothetical. If you gain weight by thinking about these foods, I apologize.
Second question – What is the most disgusting food you can think of?
Now, imagine that you are served your favorite meal. You are eager to dig in, until you notice that the person who prepared this delicious meal for you included the most disgusting food you can think of – and THAT food is touching the mouthwatering foods in the meal!
What is your next move? Do you loudly protest and insist that they start over and get it right this time? Do you kindly point out the error and ask them to start over and get it right? Do you walk out because you’ve lost your appetite? Do you hunker down and meticulously eat around it? Do you rebuke your gag reflex and decide that, against all regurgitory odds, you are going to eat everything on your plate?
This scenario is similar to what we discover in Psalm 23:5. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.”
In verses 1-4, the shepherd and the sheep are out in the wilderness. In verse 5, the imagery changes. The shepherd has traded in the rod and staff for cooking utensils, and is also the host in charge under the tent. On the table is a feast. You look around the tent and see friendly faces. All is well until you see THAT PERSON, or THOSE PEOPLE. For whatever reason, they are enemies. Suddenly the tent shrinks, the air is stifling, you have lost your appetite, your heart pounds, and you cannot see anybody else. Is this a sick joke? Who invited HIM or HER or THEM? It would be awkward for you to leave, but it’s extremely awkward for you to stay. There is an undercurrent of tension, even hostility. But the expression on the host’s face does not change. The host is generously taking care of you while they look on. Or maybe the host is taking care of them while you look on. Or maybe the host is taking care of all of you equally.
These are the head scratching realities we encounter under the Psalm 23 shepherd’s tent.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” In this verse, what word stands out for you? I propose that the most important word is the divine pronoun, repeated twice: YOU. David is describing the nature of God. The enemies are not in charge here. In fact, they only have the power we give them. But we are not in charge either. The God who has extended the invitations and coordinated the exasperating seating arrangement is in charge, taking care of us, feeding us, anointing us, overflowingly blessing us. Perhaps God is the One to whom we need to give our attention.
I do not want to discount the pain this article may have already caused you, because God definitely does not discount it. And God is not like the person at the contentious family reunion who whines, “Can’t we all just get along?” God knows our hurts and knows who has hurt us. God cares deeply about all of that. God is not minimizing it. God is equally a God of mercy and justice. It’s just that God can do things about “enemy stuff” that we cannot do.
We see this in the New Testament. On the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”
And then we have this prize from one of Paul’s letters. “For He Himself is our peace, Who has made the two groups into one, destroying the barrier, that dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)
For context, please read Ephesians 2:11-22. There you will find that the two groups are Jews and Gentiles, mortal enemies with a heated and nasty history of conflict. Through His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus knocked down those walls, which means He can knock down any walls. Christ can knock down the personal walls in our lives. Christ can knock down the ugly thick walls dividing us in this country.
God’s table has room for us AND for the people we do not want at the table, the people we are certain should not be there, the people who make us shudder, the people who disgust us. God prepares a table for us in the presence of them, which also means God prepares a table for them in the presence of us. God’s goal at the table is that all of the “us / them” categories lose their place and fade away. Us / them becomes US.
THAT is quite a miracle.
I am asking you to do only one thing, and it’s also what I am asking me to do. Let’s stay under the tent. Let’s give God our undivided attention and see what happens next. God is love, after all. God is moving toward us with that anointing oil, and keeps refilling our cup until it spills over. In God’s presence, what do we have to lose? We might lose some bitterness, some hatred, some discrimination, or some shame.
Sticking around under that tent and around that table is worth the squirming angst, because God is so good.
Grace and peace,
Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, email@example.com)