I do struggle a bit with this verse. It certainly seems to suggest that the feast table set for those faithful to God by maintain justice, even the valley of the shadow of death, is not only a table of honor and security, but also a table at which the honored for faithfulness can vaunt their ‘righteousness‘ in full view of those who did not walk the path or created obstacles and resistance for those on the path. That may be what the Psalmist intended, but I think that a more responsible and complete interpretation of the meaning of this phrase is found by looking at the other table stories, especially the stories of Jesus.
In the gospels we are often reminded that Jesus sat at table with ‘sinners‘ and that he ate with Pharisees as well. It is clear to me that Jesus was uniting both oppressor and oppressed at the table. I don’t think it too much to assume that the purpose of these meals was to challenge both oppressor and oppressed to have personal contact. It is easy for us to judge harshly and incorrectly any person whom we can force into a group; welfare recipients, the homeless (drunks), undocumented workers, muslims... the list goes on and on. Jeorg Rieger, quoting and paraphrasing Jacques Lacan writes in his book Remember the Poor, ‘“the poor”’ do not exist.‘ By that he means that labels are tools that allow us to remain distant from and disconnected from, ‘the other’ whose existence or presence disturbs us. But, when ‘the poor,’ ‘the welfare recipient’ interrupts our life with personal presence we begin to identify with them. They are no longer a label, but a person very much like us. Then we are challenged with the realization that their status as ‘less than’ us has less to do with their character flaw and more to do with how society & the political system presents, portrays and treats them.
Kathryn Tanner reminds us in her book The Politics of God that all God’s creatures, (she focuses on humanity, and my one criticism is that she does not acknowledge the value of non-human creatures) deserve respect. All creatures are God’s creation. All of us ‘stand’ before God as equally ‘good’ as created creatures, and as fallen creatures, due to our free will which allows us into relationship with God, but does not coerce that relationship.
In short, the table is a place where the distinctions we have created are acknowledged, uncovered, and then bridged by the presence of Christ. So the table is not a place where the oppressed become oppressors, but instead a place of reconciliation, grace, and the realization of that which unites us as humans/creatures, we have been named ‘good’ by God. Have you had an experience in which you bridged a gap that existed between you and one of ‘the others?’ What groups present the most challenge for you at the table of Christ?