God has saved us a seat at his table. When we eat with him, everything changes.
Hidden in the grand arc of David’s story in the Bible is the name of Mephibosheth. Perhaps this name is only memorable because of the difficulty in saying it five times fast, but I think we all miss a vivid illustration of the power of God’s grace when we gloss over his story.
Mephibosheth is Jonathan’s son who is lame in both feet. His nurse dropped him when he was 5 years old as she fled with him after Saul and Jonathan were killed. In 2 Samuel 9, David discovers Mephibosheth is alive, and he restores to the young man all the land that belonged to his grandfather, Saul. As if that weren’t enough, David also tells Mephibosheth that he will always eat at the king’s table.
We aren’t told, but we can imagine Mephibosheth’s life to this point: ridiculed for being handicapped, probably forced to beg for a living. Now, not only is he made rich, but he is invited to eat with King David. Always.
Mephibosheth’s response? He bows before David and asks, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” David’s grace is too much for Mephibosheth to take. He can’t believe that the king would see any worth in him.
Struck by the similarities between this story and one of my favorite films, The Butterfly Circus, I opened up my computer to re-watch it. (There will be spoilers because the film is all of 22 minutes, including credits.) This wonderfully crafted film centers around the character of Will. Played by author and motivational speaker Nick Vujicic, Will has no arms and legs. Even in today’s society, people born without arms and legs can be ridiculed, but since the film is set in the midst of the Great Depression, Will’s life is that much more difficult.
Worse than begging for a living, Will is the “Limbless Man” in a carnival sideshow, subjected to being dramatically revealed so that people can laugh at him and throw rotten vegetables. This is Will’s life until the day Mendez, the showman for the Butterfly Circus, meets him.
Mendez removes his hat with respect, kneels down on one knee, and says with earnestness, “You are magnificent.”
Will’s response is more violent than Mephibosheth’s response to David. He spits on Mendez.
Instead of being angry, Mendez rises, wipes the spit off and apologizes for getting too close. Then he takes his leave.
Mendez didn’t just get close to Will physically; he also got close to Will spiritually. In a spurt of hopefulness, Will stows away with the Butterfly Circus, believing he could be in the sideshow. However, Mendez insists that the Butterfly Circus will not have a sideshow. “There is nothing inspiring about a man’s imperfections on display,” he says. Like David’s invitation to Mephibosheth, Mendez invites Will to eat with the circus performers and stay with them, but he refuses to let Will go back to his old life.
My goodness, isn’t this what God does for us? His grace overwhelms us, and we fall to our knees in shame because we feel like a “dead dog,” or perhaps we get angry at him and metaphorically spit on him. But just as David insists that Mephibosheth eat at his table, and just as Mendez asks Will to join them by the stew pot on the fire, God invites us to eat with him.
We don’t get many more details of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9, but The Butterfly Circus gives us more insight to Will. As the performers of the Butterfly Circus entertain the inhabitants of a shanty town, Will watches from a distance, clearly longing to dance with the performers. Mendez speaks, “Splendid, isn’t it? The way they move? Full of strength, color, and grace. They’re astounding. But you…cursed from birth. A man if you can call him that, whom God himself has turned his back upon.”
Shocked, Will shouts, “Stop it! Why would you say that?” Mendez replies, “Because you believe it. But if you could only see the beauty that can come from ashes.” In a wonderfully crafted series of flashbacks, we get a glimpse of the life stories of three performers in the Butterfly Circus. The “Strongest Man Alive,” George, was once a drunkard who fought in bars. The trapeze artist, Poppy, was a destitute beggar, while “Anna, Queen of the Air” was a prostitute who was kicked out of the brothel because she was pregnant.
We might look with pity on Mephibosheth for being lame or Will for having no arms or legs, but the fact is we are all deficient. We are all handicapped by sin, and we need grace greater than the grace that David and Mendez offer. We need God’s grace to bring beauty from ashes. We need God’s hand to leave our old lives behind so that we can move with “strength, color, and grace.”
And God wants to do this for us, even if we spit on him! In this life, God may not give you the land that belonged to your grandfather as David did with Mephibosheth, but he wants to give us a sense of purpose beyond our broken selves.
Near the end of the film, when Will falls in a pond, he discovers he can swim, which leads to him becoming a performer in the Butterfly Circus. Not only does he have a job in the circus, he discovers he can be inspirational to others, including a crippled boy. Will finds a true sense of purpose and is able to use his “imperfections” to help others.
Again, this is what God wants for us—to eat at his table and find our purpose in him. It’s so easy to get bogged down by life, so heavy-ladened with our burdens that we can only look at our feet and the small space in front of us. That’s why it is so important for us to not overlook stories in the Bible like Mephibosheth’s. That’s why it is so important for us to watch films like The Butterfly Circus. We need to be reminded of God’s grace. We need to be reminded to look up.