Readings: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
The crowd said [Jesus], “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly. [Jesus responded,] The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.”
Watch what I do!
On this Mother’s Day 2022 we find ourselves reciting the 23rd Psalm, a psalm that may trace back to King David, who as a boy served his family as a shepherd. This is perhaps the best-known passage of all scripture, recited in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions. The shepherd image finds its way into our theology, into our hymns, into our stained glass. In many traditions, clergy are called pastors, and bishops carry a shepherd’s staff.
Within the psalm, we find four themes and four roles of a good shepherd.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.
The good shepherd provides all that we need to keep our bodies healthy, good pasture and good water.
He revives my soul and guides me along the right pathways for his Name’s sake.
Life is more than nourishment, a soul needs a purpose, and a soul needs a reason for living. The good shepherd provides direction, provides meaning.
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.
In every life, there are times of terror, and times of darkness. It is in these times that a companion is most needed to walk alongside us and to protect us, with a rod and a staff, from all that that would harm the body and the soul.
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.
The most honored guests, indeed, kings are anointed with oil, and at kings’ banquets the wine flows freely, and never runs out, but who invites “those who trouble”, who feast in the presence of “enemies”? The tax collectors, the thief on the cross next to him, the returned prodigal son, these are the reconciled invited to the banquet by the good shepherd we know in Jesus, the Messiah. While all the necessaries are provided, while the soul is revived, while on those difficult journeys we have a companion that protects us, we are to be the Reconcilers, we are to be the sisters and brothers reaching out in peace towards all. The good shepherd provides so that we can invite the world to the table so that the world can be reconciled.
This theme of reconciliation is part of the reading from Revelation, written during the Diocletian persecution in 50 – 60 A.D.
“There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…”
In the midst of those murderous times, in divisive times, and in all times, the good shepherd “spreads a table” for all to feast together.
This is what the Good Shepherd does! This is what the People of the Good Shepherd do!
And as reconcilers —
Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In serving as reconcilers, we are dwelling in the house of God, among the People of God, forever.
Psalm 23 is frequently seen as a psalm of comfort in challenging times. However, it goes beyond comfort to strengthen and to mobilize for the difficult ministry of reconciliation – to anointing with oil one’s foes, to filling the cups of one’s enemies to overflowing, to feasting with one’s opposition.
The good shepherd is like the mother of a large, active, tempestuous family, preparing the food, setting the table, ringing the dinner bell, seeing that everyone washes up, getting everyone to the table, saying grace, beginning the passing of the dishes, and watching all enjoy the family dinner. This is the household of God feasting together.
The crowd said, [Jesus] “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly. [Jesus responded,] The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.
Watch what I do!
The whole world is watching what we do. Our deeds testify to us.