Even While They Watch

In the 23rd Psalm, the writer says to God, “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” God — host-God, table-setting God, banquet-setting God — he spreads a feast for us in the presence of enemies.

The Psalmist King David was perhaps talking about political enemies or actual, enemy-enemies of the sword and shield and plundering type. We, too, have many of these enemies, and we’ve especially felt the cold shade of their presence this month. But I also have another enemy, one closer to home. Several, actually. My enemies are many: my lack of faith, my sinful lusts, my selfishness, my idolatry. Myself. My sin. I am my own worst enemy. Is the table still for me?

After Jesus miraculously feeds the 5,000, he tells them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (6:35) It seems that Jesus, too, prepares a table. And yet I’m hungry, and parched, and malnourished. I am waiting for those enemies of mine — those parts of myself I haven’t fixed yet — to turn around, shuffle off and disperse. First, they go. Then, I eat.

What does God expect? For me to turn my back to my enemies, even though they’re standing there with swords drawn and chests bared in battle paint? They taunt, “Oh sure, you’re feasting NOW. But you know I’m right here, and you’re inevitably going to turn my direction again, away from the table, so you might as well not sit down in the first place!” I created these enemies; they’re my problem, not God’s. Sometimes, I even enjoy and befriend and make blood pacts with them. I don’t deserve this table. Besides, what if one stabs me in the back while I’m turned away?

Well, the Psalmist doesn’t mention THAT contingency. He’s trying to write a POEM, after all. For crying out loud. For all that is holy. He just moves on.

King David steers the imagery along to how God anoints his head with oil, and how his cup overflows. The enemies are not mentioned again in Psalm 23. It’s almost as though they’re incidental to the real story of his life, like ensemble members in a show designed only to highlight the principal player: God himself. David’s story, our story, is a story about God’s great unrelenting heart:

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.”

My own best attempts at self-feeding — idolatry, and self-centeredness, and indulgence — these enemies do not change the fact that there is a table. A table spread for me. And If I will turn away and sit down at that table, then, just like that, my enemies suddenly go from enemies to — bystanders. Bystanders to a meal. Wallflowers at a good party.

Perhaps these begrudging onlookers will never go away altogether, but that doesn’t change the fact that the table is still there. Like it or not! It’s there, spread out like a heaping, checkered picnic blanket with all the good things of God. And it’s for ME. And I’m so, so hungry.

Let’s turn away, sit, and eat, today, even in the questionable company we’ve brought along with us.

Maybe you’d like to pray your way into that party right now:

Lord, I know I crave lesser nutrients, for water that will leave me thirsty again, for bread that will leave me hungry again. Give me the spiritual health required to enjoy that fare safely, all the while tucking into Your bounty — your grain, your meat, your fruit — for my real energy.

Let my daily sustenance come from you.

Give me the structural integrity to drink that real water, to eat that real bread; to swallow it, digest it, be fueled by it. By You.

I devour it as best I can today — even while my enemies watch.

Amen.

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