One of the jobs my sister and I were given at early ages was to set the table before supper. Younger years meant placing the silverware at each place there was a chair. As we got older, we were able to put glasses and plates at each place. With almost nine years between us, we had our moments arguing over who got to do glasses and plates, and who got to do napkins and silverware.
Setting the table wasn't boring. It was one of those tasks needing to be done, especially if we wanted to eat. But, I know, and remember a few times neither one of us wanted to do this simple task, trying to get out of it as best as possible.
Now, setting the table is a natural part of preparing dinner. It just is, and something that isn't thought about twice. Depending on what is being served, empty plates will be set out and food served, or plates with food already on them will be brought to the table.
I had not given the task of setting the table much thought until reading a commentary on Psalm 23 a couple of weeks ago. In Psalm 23, there is a verse that reads, 'You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, my cup overflows.' Whatever does this verse mean?
For a long time, I understood this verse literally. As in, a table of finest foods, the richest foods -- the lavish extravagance of God's abundant grace -- had been prepared, and I was the only one sitting at this abundant table. Surrounding the table were those who disliked and disagreed with me for any number of reasons. There has been comfort in this literal thought, comfort that was expanded in reading the commentary.
The commentary explained "Shepherd" was often used in Old Testament language to refer to kings and priests as well as those who tend sheep. One of the shepherd's responsibilities was to prepare a pasture ahead of time for the sheep. This meant clearing out poisonous plants, or nests of scorpions or other poisonous animals. Later, when the sheep were brought in from the pasture, the sick and injured were separated from the healthy to receive care. The sick and injured would have a healing oil massaged into their fleece or their joints. Or, they would be given a healing drink made from fermented herbs sweetened with honey.
This verse from Psalm 23 began to have deeper meaning. Jesus, as the Shepherd goes ahead of us to clear any danger in our way. There are -- and will be enemies that surround us. The cup -- the drink -- we are offered, is full to overflowing with the healing powers of God's love and God's grace. This cup never runs empty, even when most of it spills out.
In a few hours, I'll be looking at setting the table differently than before. I'll look at it through the lens of preparation instead of a task needing to be done. Through this lens, I'll look at it also in terms of keeping safe those in my care, whether it be my husband, or our three cats. And, when I take a sip from the glass of milk or water I'll have with dinner, I'll see it through the lens of love -- the abundant cup of love filled freely to overflowing.
Who sets the table for you?