It was a Friday night January 27, 1956, that changed the life of Martin Luther King. It was this prophetic moment that would give Dr. King the strength to carry on his march for justice. King slumped home after another day of meetings and tension over racist practices. He walked around the house thinking and pacing about the events of the day. Then the phone rang, a sneering voice on the other end: “Leave Montgomery immediately if you have no wish to die.” King’s fear surged; he hung up the phone, walked to his kitchen, and with trembling hands, put on a pot of coffee and sank into a chair at his kitchen table.
Here was the prelude to King’s most profound spiritual experience. He describes it in his book Stride Towards Freedom.
I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
While sitting at the table, King had an experience with God. It was this seminal moment that would forever fuel him in his fight for justice. Just days later his house was bombed and his family nearly killed. He would state, “Strangely enough, I accepted the work of the bombing calmly,…My religious experience from a few nights before had given me the strength to make it.” As crowds of angry people appeared in the streets, he spoke of the need to love those who hate you even more now. One year later King would awake to find twelve sticks of dynamite on his porch. It had not exploded and his family was not killed. But as he stood on the porch he recalled the moment when God meet him at the table.
In the Gospel of Luke, we encounter a similar situation of meeting God at the table. Jesus has been invited to the house of Simon who is a Pharisee. Even though some religious leaders did not agree with him, Jesus do not cut them off. While at the house of the Simon, a “women of the city” comes in the house. This would strike some of us as odd. Here you are having a special dinner with God and in walks a woman who has been marked as an outsider. Now, the scriptures does not mention what her particular indiscretion was but she was considered a sinner. Some have labeled her a prostitute but that is not situated in the text. The only thing that is detailed is that she “was a sinner.” It specifically says in verse 37, “ behold, a women who was a sinner.” Though Simon sees her as a sinner in verse 39 (presently), the scriptures proclaims this was not her present condition. Because of her past, whatever that may or may not be, Simon continues to hold her captive to those sinful events.
It is unjust to be simply known by your past.
After hearing that Jesus was at Simon’s house, she crashes the party and begins to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipe them off with her hair. She then begins to anoint his feet with the oil. Usually, people would anoint people’s head and not their feet. This woman’s appreciation of meeting God at the table gave her the courage to make a bold act of worship to Jesus. She is in intruding in a space where she was not invited, with a possession that a woman like her should not have had in the alabaster box ointment, and to top it off, she is, at least in the customs of that time -fondling the Christ. She also has her hair down, an action that theologian Joel Green denotes is similar to being topless in public. It would appear that this nameless woman is breaking all the rules in order to get a moment of forgiveness and love from the Lord Jesus Christ. She is willing to relinquish her valuable possession of self-worth for a moment at the table with Christ. I don’t know her desperation, needs, wants or desires but we do see in the scriptures that she was willing to be ridiculed and to break tradition in order to worship Christ.
So much so that her actions began to change how Simon saw Jesus. Simon replied to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Simon is now questioning rather Jesus really who he says he is because he is attending to this outsider. Ironically, Simon invited Jesus because of who he thought he was but then changes his mind because Jesus was actually being the Christ. Jesus then asks Simon a parable: “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” I think it is fair to surmise that this is a picture of salvation. We being sinners are forgiving of our sin debt by Christ’s death on the cross. We are justified–brought into right standing with God—by the love of Christ and his work on the cross. Jesus is highlighting a valuable point that we have a debt that no sinners will ever be able to pay… but he took it upon himself to pay the sin debt and became the sacrifice for our sins. Is that not a special Love!!!
He concludes the parable by saying that those who have much to be forgiving for never miss the opportunity to show that appreciation for that forgiveness. But, you Simon never offered to clean my feet, did not offer me sign of hospitality with a kiss, nor did you anoint my feet… but this women, this stranger, outsider did all of that and more. He says that her sins are forgiving and that her faith had saved her. Jesus did not mean that she had earned great forgiveness with her great love. But, that her love was the result of, not the reason for, her forgiveness- it was an expressive response to an inner joy.
This women having such appreciation for God that she broke the norms of society in order to meet God at the table. Dr. King was in the midst of trying times and meet God at the table. Every Sunday we get the opportunity to meet God at the table. We get to meet God at the table where the bread represent his Body that was beaten and broken on our behalf. Where his blood was shed for the remission of our sins. We get to meet God at the table where race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disabilities or denominations all take a back seat to the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the table we get to meet the Lord and Savior, who looked past our faults and say our needs. The table, the place where God in Psalms 23 prepares for us in the presence of our enemies.
It was at the table of my Great Grandmother where I meet God many days…. It was at this table as often as we meet, we entered into sacred places of peace with each other and had a meal.