Most of us are familiar with the 23rd Psalm, we may have learned it in Sunday school, or even had to memorize it. But because we are so familiar with it, we may not pay that much attention to what it means. The first line, "The Lord is my shepherd" has great depth if we think about it. It is a statement of faith, trust, dedication, dependence and loyalty. I look to the Lord, not myself, not some other person, or system for ultimate truth; I rely on the Lord for sustaining, protection and care; I proclaim my allegiance to God The Lord is my Shepherd, I personally claim my Lord, my faith, my need for and love for God.
"I shall not want" this is a statement both of trust in and dependence upon God as well as acceptance and discipline from us. I shall not want: if God, in his mercy, grace and providence, has not made something available to me, then maybe I shouldn't want it, don't need it or shouldn't have it. In our lesson from the Prophet Jeremiah the Lord says, "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock and bring them back to their meadow" We can trust our Shepherd to provide what we need, what is best for us, it may not be what we would choose for ourselves, but it is what is best. Our idea of green pastures and quiet waters may not agree with God's, but we can trust that his idea is best.
"He guides me in right paths for his name's sake." In the Gospel from St. Mark we read, "Jesus saw a vast crowd. He pitied them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them at great length." Left to our own devices, we will almost always choose the wrong path, our fallen and rebellious will, as well as demonic influence, leads us astray. Our Shepherd, if we will follow, will guide us aright, will teach us Truth, will reveal himself and share his life with us.
"Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage." From a certain perspective our live here on earth is that dark valley, the valley of death. We live in a fallen world and are subject to the effects of sin, death and decay. The world is dark in its fallen state, opaque to the light of Christ. But with the Lord at our side we are enabled and encouraged to not fear the dark and to see the light that, however dimly shadowed, is still at the heart of all created things. To say "I fear no evil" is a bold statement, and is a lot to live up to, but remember, to not fear evil does not mean that we deny it exists, we deny and reject its power over us. We cling to the rod (discipline) and staff (protection) of our resurrected life in Christ. Evil, or the evil one, has no power over us that we have not surrendered, if we surrender wholly to God, we can truly fear no evil.
"You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes." Who are our foes? Our foes are any one or anything that would deny us our place at the Messianic banquet, either here at the Eucharistic table or in the fullness of the Kingdom. This includes, of course, Satan and his minions, but also our own unrepented sin, attitudes, behaviors and lifestyles that are contrary to revealed Truth. Our foes may be other people, or circumstances that distract and confuse us, false shepherds, or even wolves who seek our destruction. That the Lord spreads the table in the sight of our foes means that even if the foes are not removed from us, in Christ we are victorious over them.
"You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." In Old Testament times, as well as now, oil is used for healing, for blessing kings and consecrating priests and prophets. In our Baptism and Chrismation we were all anointed as priests and kings of the Kingdom of God. We have all been anointed for healing and wholeness, and in ordination some have been anointed for particular service in the Body of Christ. The Greek word for "Messiah" which is Hebrew, is "Christos" which means "the anointed one". We are each a christ, an anointed one, chosen and consecrated by God as his own and the Eucharistic cup overflows with the life of Christ, poured out for us, poured into us as our own new transfigured life
"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." If we faithfully and humbly follow our Shepherd, even struggle, suffering and hardship are goodness, mercy and kindness because we know that we are being taught and prepared for holiness and eternity. But eternity is not in the future – it is right now. We dwell in the Lord's house now we live in the Kingdom now we are at the Messianic table now. And if we are not there now, then how do we get there? The only way is to make the claim and the prayer The Lord is my Shepherd and then follow.
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