Today is the Fourth Sunday of Eastertide. Today is frequently called Good Shepherd Sunday because of two readings (Psalm 23; John 10.1-10) which reflect on Christ as the Good Shepherd. Having spent some time with Psalm 23 this week, here are a few thoughts from that contemplation.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
You make me lie down in green pastures
and lead me beside still waters.
You revive my soul
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me
in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
There are clear themes of caretaking in this psalm. We are like sheep, God is like our shepherd. Willing to guide us, find us when we wander astray, and defend us from predators when needed. This guidance and care may take the form of gentle discipline, evidenced by God's rod and staff employed in shepherding us.
Images of kingly caretaking appear in the second-to-last verse. God's hospitality in spreading a table for us, sharing the bounty of creation and ensuring we are fed. We are anointed by God with oil, a sign of powerful blessing further evidenced in cups that run over, so abundant is the feast laid before us by our divine host.
What I found most interesting in this time of contemplation and reflection on the psalm was the final verse. The idea that, because of our membership in God's flock, goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. In the past, on hearing this verse, I did not imagine much about the nature of following. I assumed it would be a rather passive act. That goodness and mercy would trail behind me, perhaps entering the lives of others if I had the grace to be particularly Christlike for a moment.
But what if that is not what "follow" means in this case? What if, instead of trailing behind where I choose to go, goodness and mercy are pursuing me? Perhaps my own path is not the easiest one for them to follow, but they chase doggedly after me, determined to deliver their blessings. Like a wayward sheep, if I were to stop, listen, and turn around, I would see God and the blessings God has sent for me. It is my own pride, arrogance, and will that keep goodness and mercy chasing me rather than occupying the central place in my life that they deserve and are meant to hold.
God revives my soul, first out of enslavement to sin and death and then again and again when I fall into sin. If only I have the humility and wisdom to repent and return to the Lord. To stop, turn, and see goodness and mercy ever chasing me, like a good shepherd after a lost sheep.