1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
2 he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever. – Psalm 23 (RSV)
We have seen the many roles of our God-Shepherd throughout Psalm 23. The Lord has been the provider of food, water, and rest. The Lord has been the righteous leader and trail guide. In the valley of death, the Lord was our protector, comforter, and companion.
In verse five, our God-Shepherd continues to feed and water as the Lord did in the opening verses. However, rather than green pastures and still waters, we now find ourselves at the Lord’s table. Our Lord is not simply a provider for the flock but our personal host. If we didn’t picture ourselves as sheep before, we definitely don’t now — we have become an esteemed guest at the table.
This scene is more than just not being in want. This is a picture of abundance. The purpose of this meal the Lord provides in the presence of our enemies is about honor rather than eating. God anoints us with oil, communicating love and kindness. Our overflowing cup isn’t merely the abundance of the wine but the Lord’s overwhelming, generous, graciousness hospitality. This meal is not only for us, but All of this is not simply a message for us but for our enemies who bear witness to it. We are beloved; cherished by God.
We may find it easy to be thankful for God’s grace, well aware that we do not sit as an honored guest at the Lord’s table on our own merit. When it comes to God, we can be humble. But what about the enemies that the Lord has invited to share this meal?
As we sit at this table with sweet smelling anointing oil running down our neck and a cup overflowing with all good things, it’s hard not to glory in, well, the glory God is giving us. It’s easy to feel superior to our enemies. We might not say anything but secretly we revel that they are getting there’s. All those bad things they said about us, all the slights, all the ways they attacked our sense of self-worth and dignity? Well, who’s winning now?
We’re glad Jesus invited them because we will be able to rub this in their faces forever. We’ll be telling this story over and over again. High five (plus extra points for style) to Jesus for putting them in their rightful, shameful place.
But as we say that out loud, it doesn’t seem right. This isn’t the way Jesus has treated us.
So why are our enemies here at the table?
I don’t really believe they have been invited to the Lord’s table in order to be shamed. Maybe God wants them to understand the power of forgiveness, of love over hate, of gentleness over dominance.
However, it could also be that God wants to know how well we understand forgiveness. Not that the Lord’s table is a test or that the honor God bestows upon us isn’t sincere. But rather than an occasion to gloat, our enemies’ presence is an opportunity for us to forgive the wrongs they have done to us.
Paul reminds us we were once enemies of God. And despite this, God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, NRSV).
We don’t like to say it out loud, but without Christ we remain the enemies of God. Every sin is an act of rebellion and a proclamation that either we don’t care, or we think we have divine power to save ourselves. As we define ourselves good and our enemies bad, Paul reminds us that we have no right to judge others.
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:1-4, NRSV)
I’ll be honest, verses like these are not my favorite. I really like the part that God’s love can overcome our sins. I’m not as crazy about my enemies having this same love extended to them. I cringe when the Spirit whispers within in me the truth that God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience with me is meant to be extended to others.
Therefore, as thankful and humbled as I am that the Lord has given me this place of honor at the table, I’m a bit disappointed when I realize I should do the same for my enemies. Maybe our enemies are at the table so that we can love them as Christ has loved us.
The love and grace Jesus bestows on us is a gift. It is not conditional; there are no strings attached. But if we comprehend the nature of the gift, we don’t toss it aside, forgetting it once it’s been received. Grace becomes our most treasured possession. And like the cup that overflows with God’s loving kindness, grace is also meant to overflow from us to others.Like the cup that overflows with God’s loving kindness, grace is also meant to overflow from us to others. #grace #Psalm23 #TheLordIsMyShepherd Click To Tweet
When we gather at the Lord’s Table, the invitation is not for us alone. Christ extends it to all who seek him. There is no requirement to be without sin. In fact, the more aware we are of our sin, the more we are drawn to Christ. The hungrier we are.
The Lord’s Table is prepared in the presence of all. Once God’s enemy, each of us comes as God’s beloved. As we look at those around the table, we will find both friend and enemy. We will be both friend and enemy to others. However, we are all God’s beloved; we are all cherished.
The Lord’s table is one of Christ’s abundant forgiveness, a cup of grace overflowing upon us. And grace received is grace to be given — in the form of forgiveness to those who have wronged us and repentance to those we have wronged. The question that remains as we sit at the Lord’s table is whether we let grace overflow and spill on the ground or do we share it with others. Amen.Grace received is grace to be given. #grace #Psalm23 #TheLordIsMyShepherd Click To Tweet
Jesus, our good shepherd, your table is always prepared. You are ever ready to offer us grace, ever ready to shower us in your love. As we bask in your love with grateful hearts, keep us from basking in the shame of our enemies. May the Holy Spirit prompt us to remember how it feels to be your enemy. May the same love that reconciled us to you become the love that reconciles us to one another, so that your cup of grace overflows upon us all. Amen.