June 22, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows..” (Psalms 23.5)
Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a “begging the question” moment with God? No, I do not mean when we put our questions before God with the expectation of Him answering. People often do that with preconceived answers they want to hear. When they do not, then God is blamed, criticized or dismissed. “Staying at the Holiday Inn Express” will not establish a righteous priority! People may ask questions which are more rhetorical in nature. They do not expect God to answer but the power of lament may have the effect of “getting things off my chest.” There can be some comfort and peace of mind in that. A few may ask questions in order to engage God and His Word to gain a deeper understanding not only of what has been said but where is it leading to next. But,those are examples of when people ask God questions. What about when God asks us questions? What happens when God challenges us with the baseline of His Word as the pentultimate truth? How do we respond? What do we do? Where do we go from there?
In the throes of a Facebook discourse yesterday, I was challenged by God who begged the question “Who is at the table when I set it before you in the presence of yours enemies and then anointed your head with oil?” How have you interpreted that scripture visually in your minds when the 23rd Psalm is read, heard or recited? My image has usually been in the sense of the eye of the hurricane. As the Hurricane Hunter aircraft seeks to penetrate the eye of the storm, they must first survive the flight through the eye wall. Once accomplishing that task, they enter into a place of calm and tranquility. The sky is vivid blue by day and midnight blue at night. It would be hard to imagine from the outside in that the storm is like an enemy. As it moves across the face of the deep, it gathers energy and power. It draws from above a force which pushes the air pressure lower. Whatever is in the path of the storm is in harm’s way except when the “eye of the storm” passes over. I have tended to think of verse 5 as being in the eye of the storm. I do not mean a hurricane, of course. I am speaking of being in a place of peace and power where God is providing me with an abundant blessing. All the while, the enemies stand against me. They encircle me like wolves ready to have me for dinner. But, I do not fear them because the Lord is with me. His rod and staff comfort me. His promise of protection is secure. As long as I stay centered in Him, I will overcome the difficult situation in which I find myself.
But, I was challenged yesterday to see a different scenario. I saw a scene in which Jesus sat at a banquet table in the presence of His “enemies.” For example, each of the disciples explored the possibility that they had the potential to be the betrayer at the Last Supper. The most vehement declaration of “nothing could be further from the truth” came not from Judas of Kerioth but Simon bar Jonah. The one closest to Jesus, apart from John the beloved who claimed to be the closest, was the one who betrayed Jesus not once or twice but three times. He had not embraced the “to live is Christ and to die is gain” mentality yet. But, this wasn’t the first time that Jesus sat down at table with His “enemies.”
There was another occasion when with another Simon, one of the Pharisees, Jesus sat at a banquet table. Some of the gospel retelling of this story introduce him as Simon the Leper from Bethany. There is obviously more to that story than is the point of this reflection; but that is for another day. Today, I focus on the question begged by Simon not Peter, as to why Jesus would choose to associate with sinners, known sinners. This would be a strange question coming from a man who obviously was cured of leprosy. Perhaps his healing came at the hands of Jesus and this was a gratitude banquet. Perhaps he was the one of ten lepers healed; the one who returned to give thanks before the feet of Jesus and worshipped God. Now before the feet of Jesus was another known sinner, a prostitute, who anointed His feet with tears and oil and dried them with her hair. It not only disturbed Simon not Peter, but the disciples as well, especially Judas of Kerioth. We know of other such occasions when Jesus dined in the presence of His enemies. They were not always encircled around Him waiting to destroy Him; only sometimes. Instead, they were welcomed guests at the same table. Begs the question of the application of Jesus’ command to “love your enemies,” doesn’t it? How about the Good Samaritan who took the battered man in the ditch into his care and essentially “sat at table” with his enemy. The call to transform with reconciliation is sacrificial not demanding reparation. And in each of those occasions, the conversation turned to one concerning the righteousness of God, the bestowing of mercy and grace and the call to repentance or reconciling transformation. Jesus sought to teach His disciples and followers about cultural change manifested in the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven by sitting down at table with the enemy, especially if the enemy is us.
I wonder if we will recognize some of our enemies when we get to Heaven. I wonder if they will, too? How will we respond in the midst of the storm of enemies around us lurking in the dark of doubt and sin this side of heaven? Will we duplicate the Jesus “reconciling transformation” strategy here on earth? Are we strong enough in our faith to do so? How many issues can we address with this strategy in order to restore peace and calm and righteousness? Can we be like Jesus asleep in the boat perfectly at peace while a storm raged against the boats His company was in? No, I don’t mean remain asleep as if to ignore it. I mean the sleep of faith and confidence. The ignoring accusation came from the troubled disciples. Instead, Jesus rose and looked around with wonder and declared “Peace, be still.” A word to the forces of nature and of the spirit of man. It’s time we set down at tables with our enemies recognizing all our places are before God. He set before His Son a banquet table of hope, promise and resurrection in the presence of His enemies. Jesus did not refuse the invitation. In fact, by His acceptance of it, He found greater life and the peace that surpasses all understanding which He asks us to consider doing for ourselves.
OUR CALL TO PRAYER:
Father, how we need to be at peace with ourselves and one another in this world. There is no reason to fight for or demand what is assumed to be ours. You have promised to provide all that is needed if we seek You and Your righteousness. Your provision will be like a banquet table set before us in the midst of even our enemies. Is it your desire that we become friends, neighbors and joint heirs of the Kingdom of God? I would dare to believe that is Your will. In Jesus’ name, shalom and amen.