“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23)
Psalm 23 is very often used at funerals. The many wakes that I have attended often use this particular psalm to comfort the grieving friends and family and give insight into the eternal banquet.
There is a lot to this psalm and looking closely just at the first lines can give us a glance in the mirror.
Think about the last time you experienced a day that was so unsettled and nothing seemed to go right. Your loved ones didn’t seem to understand your position, a professor was not helpful with your plea or a student was less than receptive to you. Bills pile up, the car broke down and needs repair, you need employment and every road is a dead end.
Now, picture this, as you are frustrated. The Lord comes to you as you sit on the side of a hill and places his hand on your shoulder and whispers in your ear. “I am your Shepherd, you shall not want.” What does this mean to you and me?
Somewhere along history our Lord became an unreachable person to speak to, placed in a high untouchable place where we cannot speak with him – a distant God that looks to punish us at every misstep. I choose to see Our Dear Lord as the Shepherd who sits among his sheep, in the dirt and muck of our daily life that we encounter, the Shepherd is here to guard and keep us safe from the dangers and uncertainties of life. The Shepherd is here to calm our fear and anxiety.
There will be disturbances that we encounter on a daily basis and we would do well to take this scene and pray with it. Seeing the Lord come to us, as a loving Shepherd who comforts us in our distress, and sitting down beside us as we are in a moment of distress can serve as a glimpse in the mirror that we are loved and Christ is with us.
The psalm goes on with a beautiful image of what we are experiencing. The times of trial are moments when we can get so distracted that we can fail to see the Shepherd standing at our side, and with crozier in hand, ready to remove the dangers and give us rest in a lush field with still waters at our side.
Thinking about academic pressures, personal problems and decisions that can have a major affect on our life can keep us from sitting still on the side of the hill and trusting in the Lord to come and lead us to the still waters.
The Shepherd never leaves our side. We may stray from the flock, we may be in a brush of thorns, but we are never out of sight of the watchful gaze of the Good Shepherd.
When the psalm ends; “You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come,” we can see the banquet feast in front of us with all the finest foods and drink that has been prepared in the “sight of my foes.”
There is a deep consolation that no matter what wrong may come our way, no matter what injustice is done, no matter how bumpy the road gets, we are placed at the table of the Lord and we are given the food we lacked and “only goodness and kindness” will follow us.
We can’t always connect the dots of our life experiences while they are unfolding. But, in time, we will look back and see that the Good Shepherd led us from the valley of darkness and placed us in the green grass.
The missed job opportunity or loss of employment, lack of funds, failed exams are all ways that we rely on the crozier of the Good Shepherd to use those mishaps and unfortunate circumstances to guide us to a green pasture.
We are sheep, we are unsure of the terrain ahead and, with faith in the Good Shepherd, allow our ego and inflated self value to fall, like the scales from Pauls’ eyes, so that we no longer see in a mirror but with clarity.
Lent is the time to shed the scales of ego and surrender to the watchful, sometimes distant, gaze of the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd never leaves his sheep, but if one is lost, he will search the world until he finds it and carries it home, back to the green pastures and safe from danger.