(I’m blogging on one of the six verses of the 23rd Psalm each day this week . . . you can start at the beginning with Verse One here.)
Psalm 23:5: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Sitting down to the table for a meal with my enemies all around. My head may be anointed with oil, my cup may be overflowing, but what is to stop my enemies from blowing me away as I defenselessly dine?
Shouldn’t I take care of my enemies, either fight them or build a wall to keep them out – and to keep me safe – before I eat? How can I enjoy my meal in the presence of my enemies? It is at best simply not good for my digestion.
How are we to interpret this verse?
First, it is important to recognize the shift in the Psalmist’s metaphor. For the first four verses, the Psalmist was a sheep and God was his shepherd. Now, God is a gracious host and the Psalmist is God’s guest.
Hospitality was perhaps the most valued attribute in the time and place the Psalm was composed. That certainly makes sense when there might be some distance between arable land. A traveler depended upon the gracious generosity of the inhabitants encountered along the way.
As Abraham provided for his mysterious visitor in Genesis 18, the host in verse four waits upon – even serves – the guest with food on the table and beverages that overflow their cups.
What a picture! God as host. God as servant.
“(J)ust as the Son of Man came to serve not to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
So what about these enemies?
Is this verse about the host’s – God’s – protection from our enemies? Is our enjoyment of God’s provision in the midst of our enemies meant to be both an act of faith and also a sort of taunting of those who would mean us harm?
But there is a more radical picture that I believe to be more consistent with the Gospel’s depiction of God’s outrageously inclusive love.
What if “in the presence of my enemies” means that our enemies are also invited to the feast?
What if our very enjoyment of God’s feast is meant not to be a rebuke to our enemies, but rather an invitation?
Whether we are talking about food and drink as God’s daily provision, or as the Eucharist meal shared in worship, or as the great never-ending feast of eternity, God’s desire is the same. God – the Most Hospitable Host – yearns for all to gather and share the table.
So perhaps verse five of this great Psalm is not just an invitation to appreciate God’s abundant provision.
Perhaps this verse is also an invitation to . . . invite. For it is you and I who have the privilege of sharing the Good News that God’s sustaining food and overflowing drink are available to all.
Even our “enemies.”