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|Table in presence of enemies takes on new meaning|
A week or so ago some friends and I were discussing the power of beliefs — not only what we believe about God, but what we believe about ourselves and about our fellow man. I must admit, in this particular setting our discussion centered on religious beliefs. I said, "We have to know what we believe. Then we need to compare what we believe with what Jesus taught and how Jesus lived."
I dare say that most folks who profess to be Christians will tell you they believe in Jesus, along with what He taught and how He lived. That certainly seems obvious enough. However, I discovered something about myself and my interpretation of a certain passage from Psalm 23 that did not line up with what Jesus taught or how Jesus lived. I, like most of you, have heard this Psalm all of my life. It still brings amazing comfort and assurance to a heart that is hurting.
Towards the end of the Psalm we find the words, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." (King James Version). When I picture this scene I see a big wooden table and lots of my favorite foods. There is fresh squash, fresh peaches, honey baked ham, homemade yeast rolls, blackberry cobbler, Italian cream cake, fresh tomatoes… the list goes on and on. There I am, with my oversized white linen napkin and sparkling silverware. I look up from my fabulous spread to find a few of my most cherished enemies standing in the corner. As I begin to say something to them I notice that there is fresh corn on the table. Between bites I notice them again. This time I speak. "This food is delicious. It's a shame you were so mean to me. Oh well, that's what you get. God has prepared all of this wonderful food just for me! Don't you wish you would have been nicer to me and hadn't judged me so harshly?"
Yep, that's how I've always envisioned it, except on a really bad day I add a "na, na, na, boo, boo." One day my husband and I were discussing this Psalm. I had not yet shared my interpretation of the table (and I would never publicly admit to the "na, na, na, boo, boo.") when he said, "I wonder how many chairs are at that table."
Chairs? There are no chairs around MY table! At that moment I realized my selfishness and non-Christ-like attitude. So I thought again of the phrase, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." This time I considered the love that Jesus taught and the love Jesus demonstrated.
I imagined it again, this time with chairs and this time, with a heart like Jesus. This time I don't even notice the fresh corn on the table. Instead my eyes immediately focus on my enemies and I respond, "Hey, look at all this food God has prepared! There's no way I can eat all of this. Why don't you join me? No really, there's plenty of room. The truth is that I don't deserve any of this, so the least I can do is share it with you. None of us are perfect. If the truth be known, I'm sure at someone else's table I standing in the corner, too."
As you can imagine, even in my imperfect heart, once my enemies join me at the table they soon become friends. If the Lord is truly my Shepherd I cannot imagine it any other way. I also understand that I cannot decide for others. There will be those who don't like me, don't agree with me, or simply don't want me around. There may even be those who despise me. But when it's all said and done I hope that I will remember to share the graceful invitation that was offered to me and that I will allow God to lead me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Until then, I would suggest we all save room for dessert!
Jo Ann Cooper is a United Methodist pastor of the LA Conference.