>Kosuke Koyama is John D.Rockefeller, Jr., Professor of Ecumenics and World Christianity at Union Theology Seminary in New York City.
This article appeared in the Christian Century, April 12, 1989 p. 379. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Our self-understanding is challenged by a God who prepares a table — a feast, not a fortress with guns! — for us in full view of our enemies.
Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows he lets me be.
By tranquil streams he leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice
as befits his name.
Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as
I should fear no danger, for you are at my
Your staff and your crook are there to
You prepare a table for me
under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.
Kindness and faithful love pursue me
every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh
for all time to come [Ps. 23, New
"You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies." This is "a marvelous sight" (Exod. 3:3) indeed, for both friends and enemies. It is something "no eye has seen, and no ear has heard" and what no mind can visualize (I Cor. 2:9) People enjoying such a feast would make themselves an easy target for their adversaries! Yet this is none other than an expression of the supreme wisdom and strength of God, whose foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and whose weakness is stronger than human strength (I Cor. 1:25) God’s vulnerability is stronger than human invulnerability. Through a banquet table — not guns and warplanes — God wills to transform us and our world.
When I learned that the Christian view of history is a linear progression, with a beginning and an end, I was deeply impressed. I was introduced to this interpretation in the contusion or postwar Japan. "What a powerful way to look at what has happened and is happening now!" I said to myself. I thought that this wisdom must have accompanied my Christian baptism. On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally to Allied forces; in September, General Douglas MacArthur landed in Japan as one who had a higher power than the emperor; and on January 1, 1946, the emperor renounced claims to divinity. Living through this progression of events, I was convinced that history was indeed linear, and heading toward the end that God intended. I felt empowered by this overarching principle by which I could chart my position in the turbulence of history.
In time, however, I became troubled by this view. I began to suspect that the image of straight lines was just too simple, too efficient, to fit reality. I was particularly disturbed by the numerous straight lines that divide the African nations. Straight lines seemed to be an image of imperialism. I became aware that the love of God — hesed, agape — is more of a zigzag than a straight line. For the sake of others, love makes self-denying zigzags, displaying its power as it overcomes profound frustration.
The Indian Jesuit Samuel Rayan writes that the Christian experience of history is "best described in personal terms of interiority and relationship rather than in geometrical terms of lines and circles." The Christian "interiority" is embraced by the unfathomable hospitality of God. In the beginning was hospitality.
The image of hospitality is not composed of lines or circles. It is the warmth and security we feel as we find ourselves, through the son, "close to the Father’s heart" (John 1:18) In this spirit of hospitality, we can understand Archbishop Tutu and the South Africans who protest against apartheid as attending a messianic banquet in the presence of President Botha. They are urging everyone who supports legalized racism to share in the hospitality and generosity of God — one who converts people by the powers of hospitality. We are filled with wonder and awe when we encounter such a power.
The table that God prepares for us culminates in the eucharistic table of the Lord. This sacrament is the ultimate symbol of God’s hospitality, demonstrated in full view of the enemy. Jesus "loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end" (John 13:1) He did so knowing that the time of his martyrdom was near. The table was prepared by the very life of God.