Reflection on Psalm 23 verse 5 on the 20th February 2022 for Wellspring at St John's St Philips The Hague.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
In our series on this Psalm we started the relation with God as Him being our shepherd, and we His sheep. He leads and guides us, we walk and follow. He shows us we weren’t alone even in the bleakest hours.
But the verse we are looking at this week is changing the dynamics. “You prepare a table before me”, says David. God is hosting us, all of us, even our enemies. Interesting parallels can be drawn from our two readings from Mark chapter 6. We start with the banquet Herod is throwing for his birthday. There are high officials, military commanders and other important people. I am sure Herod doesn’t like everyone there, yet he dines with them. When John the Baptist is brought up the tension rises and Herod is put on the spot. Does he follow the opinion of those around him, or does he stand up for himself and proclaim that he in fact likes John, and doesn’t want to see him killed? We all know how the story ends.
Our second reading is about the feeding of the five thousand. The disciples mention to Jesus how they are in a remote place and even though their enemies might not be present, he is surely being watched by Herod. And as Jesus proposes to give the crowds something to eat, his disciples object. Do you know how much money that costs, or maybe in the back of their minds, do you know how much energy that will cost us! Jesus could have given in to that peer pressure as Herod did with his crowd around him. But instead Jesus asks how much
bread and fish there is. And in the end, there is plenty for everyone, more than any of the disciples expected. Baskets of bread and fish are gathered after everyone has had theirshare; the cup overflows.
We have a banquet of death in the one reading, and a banquet of life in the other. We have someone succumbing to peer pressure, and someone not only opposing it but also lovingly guiding his friends along the way. Now where does that leave us? What does it mean for us when we read our psalm verse again? “You prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.” Can you imagine what you would do, how you would feel, and whose example you would follow?
I would like to paint a picture, inspired by Ignatian meditation - feel free to sit back, close your eyes and turn off your camera. Notice your own thoughts, your feelings and emotions, but just let them be. You don’t have to do anything with them, just observe.
Imagine yourself in an old city, cobbled streets under your feet, a warm summer breeze brushing your hands and cheeks; the sun is setting and the people around you are talking a language you don’t understand. You are looking into the little side streets as you walk. It must be here somewhere. When you turn the corner you smile. In the doorway a little up ahead you see your friend, who you haven’t seen in ages. You greet each other, a hug, a kiss, a “how are you, come in come in!”
And as you enter and your eyes adjust to the darkness inside, a big table emerges. It’s set with fine linen, candles are lit and two plates are set out with the finest table ware. Large jugs filled to the brim promise you an evening of
laughter, memories and joyful sharing. Your friend disappears into the kitchen where you hear some clattering of pans and pots, they shout for you to help yourself to a glass, and ”take a seat please”, and they will be “with you shortly”.
You try to recognize what is cooking, by the smells coming from the kitchen. The door swings open and your friend comes out with a big platter and smiles, you think to yourself how nice it is to see them again, and it’s been way too long. As they put it on the table, they ask if you still live in that old place, remember
that one neighbour, and oh, what about that cat that always sat on the windowsill! You laugh. When everything is brought out, the table is filled. Your friend looks pleased, “almost ready” they say. A knock on the door and they dart over to welcome the guest with the same joyfulness as they welcomed you. “Please take a seat!” Your friend turns around and smiles,
“I will be your host tonight, and make sure you will have everything you desire!”
You have not been able to see the other guest’s face, but when they sit down opposite you, you know. The person taking a seat is your greatest enemy. In Jesus’ case, it would be Romans, Herod perhaps. Who is facing you at this table?
- A colleague you used to work with?
- Your best friend from kindergarten?
- Someone you once loved?
- Or someone who hurt someone you loved?
- Or are you perhaps your own enemy? And are you looking into your own eyes?
You want to be a good guest, you can’t stand up and leave when your friend, who has prepared this table, has offered their space so lovingly. And you love and trust them, so you stay. At first the conversation will be awkward, you might not know what to say to this figure opposite of you. But as the evening goes on and you talk and you get to know one another a bit better, it turns out that the person you are facing isn’t all bad. In fact, they might have a good sense of humor, they might have suffered hardship similar to yours, they might show remorse, or you might have misunderstood them.
Looking at the person you are facing, what can you see in them that reminds you ofyourself? How does that make you feel?
And as the wine flows and you talk, what would you two agree on?
What happens if you look for the similarities rather than the differences between you?
Would there be anything you can see in them that you admire or want to take an examplefrom?
Is there anything you would like to say to them?
The plates are stacked, the jugs emptied and, slightly lightheaded, you get up. Your friend emerges from the kitchen and says how lovely it was to receive you both at their table. How wonderful to hear the conversations, to listen to new insights about the other person, and to see you grow. Imagine thanking your friend, the host, for providing this safe space, for this meal, for the opportunity. Then turn your gaze to the other guest. This person who sat down
opposite you at the beginning of this meal, has changed between then and now. Take a moment to imagine how you want to finish this evening, perhaps wish them all the best, shake their hand, or tell them something you haven’t been able to say before.
You close the door behind you when you leave, you reflect on the encounter you just had as you make your way back home, walking again down those cobbled streets, with the moon shining boldly in the night sky, and the stars illuminating your way.
God has prepared a table for us, one where we meet every Sunday. Sometimes in person, sometimes online. And taking up his invitation, and accepting his hospitality, is something we all do. And as we approach his table, we pray, we confess and receive absolution. We say: “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord, whose nature is always to have mercy”.
We are all meeting at that same table, we are all forgiven, all children of God, and we all deem ourselves unworthy. We don’t want to exclude others, we want to live in the same light and have mercy, we want to forgive others in the same way that we are forgiven, we want to see the good in people, we want to say kind things, and we want to extend the hospitality with which we were received, to those around us. “so that we may evermore dell in him, and he in us.”
For then we will anoint and be anointed with the oil of joy, in the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and right, the spirit of knowledge and love. And our cups will overflow.