Many people are familiar with Psalm 23 and take great comfort in knowing that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Certainly, the Word and Spirit of Jesus (His rod and staff) guide us through this world full of the shadows of valleys of death. But how many of us remember that our Good Shepherd “prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies”?
Preparing a table in such a circumstance impresses us with the fact that those who make themselves our enemies cannot disturb the peace and goodness that God provides so constantly and abundantly in our everyday lives. What’s more, part of what Jesus sets on our table in the presence of our enemies has to do with opportunities to reach out to our enemies with the truth and grace of God. That truth and grace turn them in repentance and regenerate their souls so that they join us at the table of the Lord, no longer as enemies, but as fellow children of God and ambassadors of the very kingdom they were previously so antagonistic toward. Consider the example of Paul the apostle in Acts 9!
A table set before us begins with the Word of the Lord provided to us daily in our reading. That Word makes us alert and discerning so we listen differently to what people say; words and emotions might sound antagonistic but are actually masking fear, disappointment, regret, or shame. In my experience, what people say inevitably reveals how we might reply in pursuit of discovering truth and then grace with them. For example, when a student complains bitterly about the history of violence and abuse by Christians, I ask them for examples. Their examples prompt the following questions: how does this history compare with Jesus’ own history and teaching; what teacher or religion hasn’t first suffered abuse by those who claim it as their excuse for abusing others; what is the real source of abuse and hatred among human beings and what is the remedy? First we explore the complaint (the way a physician would); then we look for the remedy, uniquely present in God’s Word and grace to us. Such is the life of ambassadors and stewards of the mysteries of God.