Psalm 23 is included in the lectionary readings for this Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter. This Psalm is often read or sung at funerals.
I can’t remember when I last heard a sermon on Psalm 23. Such sermons are usually filled with idylls: gurgling streams, fresh breezes, kind words.
It’s why we “go to church.” (Actually, we don’t “go to church.” We go to services. We join churches.) We want to sing comforting songs. We want to hear encouraging words. We want to confess our sins in the company of other sinners. We want to receive absolution, healing. We want …
Is that why we’re supposed to join churches where we worship God? To fulfil our wants, our “felt needs,” to get affirmation of our idea of God?
If so, our version of Jesus is nice chocolate we’ve moulded in the shape of Jesus. If so, we should tear Psalm 23 – and more – out of our Bibles.
What we want is not what we get when we join the people of the Way (Acts 19:9, 23). What we get is a Shepherd who keeps us moving, in his flock.
Jesus proclaimed that He’s the Good Shepherd (John 10).
The Bible often calls leaders shepherds. King David, author of Psalm 23, worked as a shepherd before God made him King. In the course of protecting his sheep, he had killed wild animals (1 Samuel 17:34-37).
Get this. Psalm 23 was written by someone whose power was like that of the Prime Minister of the day, like Ismail Sabri today. Someone whose job was to see to the needs of the people. Someone who led worship.
What does Psalm 23 tell us about worship?
Worship means being kept “within the Way,” with rod and staff (verse 4; the rod is used for warding off attackers, the staff for guiding the sheep). Worship means being at peace while being engaged by vigorous enemies (verse 5). Worship means being provided for, while moving Godward.
The image of the Shepherd should radiate fierce tenderness. I fear that the use of Psalm 23 in funerals focuses only on tenderness. I fear my own account of my life on the Way has little of God’s fierceness, of stories of Him frustrating those who wish me harm. I fear the Prime Minister does not act like a Shepherd should, and I wonder if I pray enough for him.
Reflecting on Psalm 23 makes me wonder if I’m too prone to following my own idol of Jesus – and straying from the Way.