The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still water; He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23
Update on Alena: She is home from the hospital. Another miracle for our miracle young lady. Thank you for your prayers. Please keep them coming.
Do you have a favorite Psalm? Psalm 23 will always be near and dear to my heart. When I was a little boy and turned seven, I was allowed to serve in the altar. Back then, altar boys needed to memorize Psalm 23 and say it when we put our altar boy robe on. It is the first Psalm that I knew. (My favorite Psalm now is Psalm 50/51 because as a priest, I pray it at every Divine Liturgy.)
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. This Psalm, for me, is worth a thousand pictures. Because that is how many beautiful images come to my mind when I pray this Psalm. This is why we will spend the next few reflections discussing this Psalm. The first verse alone, “the Lord is my Shepherd,” makes me think of Jesus in long, white robes, guiding His sheep not with a staff but with His arms. If we call the Lord, “my shepherd,” then that makes us (me) one of the sheep. We know that sheep are not the smartest animals, and that the shepherd was needed in order to keep the herd of sheep safe. The shepherd, in many cases, was not a nice person. Shepherds were the bottom of the social ladder. They were nomads, hired hands usually, who were paid little by landowners to tend to the flocks of usually unruly sheep. The shepherd carried a staff by which to force the sheep into line and also to fend off predators who might come after the sheep.
Jesus says in John 10:11-15:
“I Am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, see the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I Am the good shepherd; I know My own and My own know Me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
Unlike shepherds who are hired hands and feel from predators who might not only destroy the sheep but kill the shepherd, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has willingly died to protect the sheep, us. Therefore, He can be trusted to lead us because He has already died for us.
The hymns of the church call the followers of Jesus “rational sheep.” We are not dumb creatures, like the sheep of the pasture. We can think for ourselves. However, we still need a shepherd to lead us to the safe haven of the sheep pen, the Kingdom of Heaven. We still need a shepherd to lead us in difficult circumstances.
We don’t know if sheep love their shepherds because they are the leaders of the flock, or if they fear them because they carry the staff. We don’t know if sheep trust shepherds to keep them safe or not. That is because sheep are irrational creatures, we have no idea what must go on in their minds. In our rational minds, however, we can love our shepherd. We can also understand the need for a shepherd. We can acknowledge that while we are rational people, we are not all-knowing. We can acknowledge that there are gaps between us and feelings of safety and security. We can acknowledge the need to submit to a shepherd in order to allow ourselves to be led away from danger and into peace and safety. And we can trust our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, because He has died for us.
In the uncertain times in which we live, this Psalm continues to provide comfort to me. The wolf is not an animal that threatens me. Today it is the coronavirus (and tomorrow something else) and the associated worry and other stresses that it brings. I trust that the Lord will lead His flock through this crisis. I trust that if I stay with the flock, under His leadership, I can pass through whatever danger lurks today. I don’t know what unforeseen challenges the day will bring, but I am confident that my shepherd can help me negotiate them. That doesn’t mean that I have no role in walking through the day. I have to do the walking, He is not going to carry me, or beat me into submission. He is going to lead, I merely have to follow. But I have to follow, and that requires both my faith and my action.
If the Lord is my shepherd, and He is Almighty, then I can honestly say, “I shall not want.” And this is where the tension and challenge comes in as a Christian. I am a human being, of course I want—I want food, money, comfort, security and control, among other things. Faith is entrusting ourselves to our shepherd and trusting that He will lead us to the necessary amounts of those things, as He wills.
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Let the Shepherd lead today!
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