How a fixation on Psalm 23 may hinder us
Like almost everyone else in the whole world, I love the Shepherd’s Psalm. It well deserves its place as our most favorite passage in the entire Bible.
Even unbelievers are familiar with Psalm 23. Whenever I invite people to join me in reciting it, as I sometimes do at graveside services, for example, I’m amazed at how many are able to join in.
It is little wonder the passage has such broad appeal. It is one of the most personal of all Scripture texts, full of references to “I” (4 times) “me” (6 times) and “my” (4 times). Yet it is all about what a gracious and benevolent shepherd God is, with seemingly no expectation of our offering anything in return.
It is about pure grace.
That’s certainly a message we all need, given how impoverished and dependent we human beings are, and how we much need divine nurture and care, especially in times of loss, loneliness and distress.
But it’s not intended to give us the whole picture of our covenant with God. The other side of the story, found in multitudes of other passages, is about how God calls us and equips us to learn shepherding and nurturing ourselves, and to graciously pass on that love and care to others in need.
It’s that second calling that is so easily and so often overlooked. To a repentant Peter, Jesus’s message is that if you really love me, you will shepherd my sheep, feed my lambs, lead others to places of nourishment and growth (e.g., to “feed” them).
In other words, we are called to be both aware of our spiritual poverty, to be receivers of grace, and to be a means by which we convey grace and help to others. God’s shalom is always to be passed on.
Otherwise, we risk remaining spiritual infants, seeking only our own comfort, safety and blessing rather than living out the mandate of the apostle Paul, who urges all believers to “warn those who are complacent, comfort those who are anxious and afraid, take tender care of those who are weak, and to be patient with everyone.” (I Thessalonians 5:14, paraphrased)
In other words, having been blessed by Psalm 23-style shepherding, we practice that same kind of shepherding toward others.
Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.
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