|The Lord is my shepherd.|
I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.
You set a table for me
right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.
~ Psalm 23 (Common English Bible)Following up on the last reflection I wrote about 1 Peter, today's reflection is also on a lectionary passage we are not reading in worship. Psalm 23 is the traditional Psalm reading for the 4th Sunday of Easter (this coming Sunday). The other passages change with each cycle of readings, but this is always the Psalm. Sometimes we refer to the 4th Sunday of Easter as Good Shepherd Sunday.
We love this image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It is a comfort to us in trying times and good ones. The concept that Jesus is keeping an eye us, watching out for us, ready to respond if we get into real trouble, but mostly just let us wander and make our own choices. Perhaps coming by to nudge us in a better direction every so often, or to point us toward the better grass.
Growing up in the central Willamette Valley of Oregon, sheep were as plentiful as the cows are around here. I had friends with herds. I spent time studying in barns during lambing season, because that is where my study partners needed to be. I know a little about modern shepherding. At least I know enough to know it does not resemble the role of the shepherd through both Old and New Testament times.
The Biblical Shepherd was one who stayed on the fringes of society. They were wanders, staying out in the wilderness with their herds for weeks at a time. It was lonely and isolated work. But, it also provided another perspective on society. Unlike most people who stayed in and around one city, Shepherds moved from city to city, gaining a broader perspective. Yet, they rarely stayed in one city for long, retreating to the hillsides and wilderness landscapes where they could reflect with distance and a broad horizon.
Shepherds also needed to be on high alert at all times for any threats to their flock. There were the threats from the outside, animals, storms, or terrain that could harm the flock. But, also the threat of the trouble the sheep could cause for themselves. I have spent enough time around today's sheep to know that they are prone to make mistakes and trip themselves up. Scripture seems to indicate their ancestors were not any brighter.
I think we love this image of the Good Shepherd, because we know how much we can be like sheep. We are all subject to that mix of trouble that comes to us from outside of our control, and the trouble we get ourselves into. The Good Shepherd is one who stays on the edge, with an eye toward a larger horizon. The Good Shepherd can see further along our path than we can and knows what lies on the other side of those dark valleys we would rather not enter.
To view God as our shepherd is a claim of trust. We admit that we are prone to finding ourselves in trouble of many forms, some our own doing, some beyond our control. Yet, we follow the lead of one who lovingly leads us through. We trust that the Good Shepherd has a perspective and understanding that we cannot match in our own limited state, and that the path we are being nudged to take is truly the way that is best for us in this time and situation.
As we reach this mid-point between Easter and Pentecost, and continue in our strange Easter season, let us continue to seek the loving guidance of our Good Shepherd, who is nudging us along even through this unfamiliar terrain.