Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – The Traits of the Good Shepherd

Psalm 23
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

It occurred to me yesterday that there is a great difference between the shepherds that come to shepherding through and because of faith in the Lord, and the “Good Shepherd” who watches over both “local” shepherds and the Lord’s sheep. Now remember what we discussed yesterday that sheep are not blind mindless followers but initial followers of the the local shepherds and the the Good Shepherd.

Here in the psalm passage we learn more about the Good Shepherd. Or at least more about the motif/metaphor that the psalmist employs.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;” (Verse 2)

The Lord as the Great Shepherd does not expect us to be nurtured and nourished by turbulence. We say that times of stress and distress help us to learn to depend on the Lord. But the purpose of the Good Shepherd is to bring peace to our soul. We learn that even if there is turbulence in our lives, the Lord provides a place of calm.

“ . . . he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” (Verse 3)

The Divine that we call by the name of Lord has pledged with all that the Omnipotent Divine has and is to undertake for us. This is what the psalmist means (I think) when he says “for his name’s sake” – although the Divine is not bound by our definitions of “his”.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.” (Verse 4)

I said a few verses back that the Lord creates places of calm. The security and calm of the Lord’s rod and staff is that it keeps danger away from us, and lead us where we should go. I am not talking about the danger that we may face in this world, but the danger to our spirit and soul, that which will survive us after bodily death. Those who follow the Lord may have fears and concerns in this life, but the answer to those concerns is the Lord, who will not abandon us – for the sake of the Lord’s name.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Verse 5)

The Might of the Lord is evident in the face of the dangers we may face, and in front of those who seek to harm us. Our calm and confidence comes from a deep well within us that the Lord has established. We can draw on that when we face the stress and pressures of this world. And we are renewed with the Divine’s calm and peace. As the psalmist says . . .

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.” (Verse 6)

Selah!

I want to share something with you that I came across the day I sat down to write this reflection and post – “As the print of the seal on wax is the express image of the seal itself, so Christ of the express image – the perfect representation of God. ” St.Ambrose spoke it, I do not know when as the source of the quote did not identify it. But I had to think to myself, how could so many people have misunderstand, and continue to misunderstand the nature of God when Christ exemplified it. The 23rd psalm does not say that the Messiah that is to come, or some holy man called by the Lord is the Shepherd – but Lord, the Godself, is the Shepherd who does all of these things for the sheep that have the good sense to follow. I could go on and on identifying the various ways that I feel God has been misunderstood. But that is not my purpose. Beloved reader, look to Christ as the way of compassion and care that the Lord God has always extended to humanity. Selah and shalom!

Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Psalm 23, again

Since I got up this morning I have been trying to figure out a new approach to this psalm passage. This psalm has capture the attention and the imagination/imagery of countless people. I do not know if there is any unique approach possible. In all the years I have been writing scriptural reflections I feel like I have been re-trodding familiar ground. And yet, there is no real reason to try to come up with something different. One of the reasons this psalm is so popular is because it is so straightforward. So if some of what I say sounds familiar, take comfort in knowing that these are well established truths.

Psalm 23

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

When the Lord is with us, we may not get everything we want or need. But in terms of comfort and support in whatever our life circumstances, the Lord provides. Maybe the psalmist was being overly optimistic. But peace and contentment of the spirit and soul are priceless.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.”

The psalmist, it seems, prizes these things above material possessions. And I will not say that writer is wrong. We, humanity, acquire things in all shapes and sizes; excesses and necessities. We all have our own ideas of what we absolutely need, what we would like, and what we can do without. But peace of mind, spirit, and soul are so essential. And these are the things that the Lord provides.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.”

Again, going through life without fear. Priceless! Have confidence in every situation and circumstance means that you can act as the Lord would have you act. And having the Lord’s comfort around you means you are invulnerable to all the world throws at you.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

And the world knows that you are protected and beloved. If I can take this idea further, those who also follow the Lord are seated at the table of the Lord, so we have companionship for the journey through this life. And the promise of continued fellowship in the world to come.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.”

The psalmist. I think, does not mean just heaven. When we have the Lord as our Shepherd all of our days on earth are lived being within the fold of the Lord. Despite what the world might hold, we are safe within the Lord’s sight. Goodness and mercy are with us, we are seen as the Lord’s beloved, we walk without fear in this life, and we are lead in good directions. We are blessed! Selah!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Shepherding and being Shepherded (The Psalm Passage)

Did you see this one coming beloved reader?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

I first learned/heard Psalm 23 in the King James Version. The New King James Version does not have the “right” sort of feel for me. And as I considered why, I realized it was because the older English makes you slow down to put your tongue around the words, and helps you to stop and think about what they few verses are saying. I do not know if the writer of Psalms knew what he/she was creating when these verses were inscribed so long ago.

“The Lord is my shepherd . . “ Keep in mind what a good shepherd does for the sheep. Not only food and drink, but nurture and care. We do not need to fear when the Good Shepherd is with us – no matter what happens.

I said Wednesday that I am approaching my theme from a backward perspective – saying what we should do; and then saying how God/Christ does care. It is out of realization and appreciation for what God/Christ does for us that we should do for others. We may do “shepherding” not as perfectly as God or Jesus Christ does it, but we read in I John 3:16-24 “that we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” And that in John 10:11-18 that it is the good shepherd who takes better care of the sheep than the hired hand. We are not called to be “sometimes Christians” depending on whether it is good/profitable to us. We are called to be Christians in service to humanity.

But as we work and struggle to be all that God calls us to be, we are comforted by the fact that God and Christ are our Good Shepherds and that we are cared for while we do God’s work. May you beloved reader feel the Good Shepherd’s presence in your life as you minister and shepherd others. Selah!