The Promise of the Table


By Robert Bishop and Andrea Lingle

 You prepare a table before me
In the presence of my enemies
Psalm 23

The great promise of the table is that we are invited to join in holy community/communion with family. Family, of course, does not just consist of our blood relatives, nor the people in this room, nor everybody throughout time and space who believes as we do—after all, even the pagans love those who love them. Family must be the stranger: the woman at the well, the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned, the leper, and, yes, even The Betrayer.

Jesus, who is the Betrayer? You have heard it said that the sinful, the lazy, the imprisoned are the Betrayers, but I say to you. In as much as we forget that we are of God, we betray the Divine nature within us. In as much as we believe that life is meaningless, we betray that our living and breathing is seen and loved. In as much as we deny that we must act carefully in the world lest our actions be violent, we betray that we are born from love.  

That is the scary part of the table. Scripture doesn’t just promise us a seat, but also a seat to our enemies. “A table prepared in the presence of my enemies,” at first reading, may sound like a triumphant promise, as if we’ll get to dine while they suffer, perhaps in a place not so full of green grass and still water; perhaps they’ll be in the dark valley, not privileged enough to partake in the feast we’ve earned through our works. But no, the promise is also a terrible one: who wants to be in the presence of their enemies, much less share the sacredness of the table?

And who is my enemy? Could the enemy be the one whom we have not embraced as having to do with us. That angry spouter-of-dogma? How have we refused to hear how they have been excluded? That sender-away-of-refugees? How have we laughed in derision at their alien voice? How have we belittled and refused them? That scoffer, that cynic, that proselytizer? How have I forgotten our shared dependence on breath, love, and nourishment?  

As I’ve read this passage more and more, I’ve come to realize that the promise of the table isn’t that we’ll get to partake, although we will. The promise is that we’ll be reconciled with THAT person, with THOSE people. The responsibility we have as Christ followers is to be the ones who extend the invitation. That is why our communion can never be closed—because it is not about just us. It's not to be hoarded or protected. The great promise of the table is holy community/communion with family—and that means we are constantly on the lookout for family that looks like a stranger, a woman sitting at a well, and an enemy.