The Fourth Sunday of Easter (this coming Sunday) is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” so named because every year we read some portion of Jesus’ teaching about the Good Shepherd from John 10. (We read a different portion of John 10 every year, in a three year cycle, but it is always part of the Good Shepherd teaching.) That also means that every year on this Sunday we recite Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd…”), and the Collect also focuses on that theme (see below).
I’d like to reflect with you for a moment on what is surely the most famous and beloved Psalm. It is a bucolic vision, isn’t it? “The Lord is my shepherd . . . green pastures . . . still waters . . . spread a table before me . . . I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Click here to read the full Psalm.
But if we end there with a lovely vision of life in God’s care, we miss the real power of the Psalm. I realize that what I am about to explain sounds technical and only for those verses in poetry and language — but stick with me and you’ll get it. Psalm 23 is an excellent example of what is known as “chiastic parallelism,” a common structure in Hebrew poetry and literature. It means that the Psalm is structure like a pyramid and the center of meaning is in the center of the Psalm, not the beginning or end, as we might typically assume.
I have actually mapped this out visually so you can see what I mean. Click here to see the Psalm laid out in parallel. Please do take a moment to click on that link and look at what I have prepared — it really will help you see what I am getting at. Seeing the Psalm this way we realize that what was really on David’s mind as he wrote this Psalm was not a lovely country setting, but the valley of the shadow of death. More than a Psalm about enjoying a blissful setting, it is a Psalm of utter trust in the valley of the shadow of death, where we now need have no fear.
When I’m in the valley what I need is not just a pretty picture but a dependable, sure guide who will lead me to that “happy place”. This isn’t just imagining something pretty to temporarily distract us from the troubles we face but a reminder of our rock solid guide.
When you encounter your next valley, give thanks for a Good Shepherd who is in the valley with you can with whom you need not fear!
This column appeared in the Nay 3, 2020 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.