For most people who like to pray the psalms, Psalm 23 is clearly a favorite. My prayer is that, with the gracious help of the Holy Spirit, we may each come to a fuller understanding of this psalm. May we be drawn, like a humble lamb, to trust the good shepherd, who watches over us with total love. May this popular psalm become for us a prayer of simple trust!
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The first line suggests that the Lord will fulfill all of our needs and desires. As the psalm goes on for verse after verse, we sense that the shepherd’s goodness toward us is growing more and more generous—to the point of overflowing.
“In green pastures he gives me repose…”
“In green pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his namesake.” The good shepherd wants us to experience a profound sense of inner peace and refreshment because he is watching out for us.
“Even though I walk in the dark valley…”
“Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” All of a sudden, we leave behind the “he” language: “he leads,” “he refreshes” and “he guides.” And we begin to use “you” language: “you” are at my side,” “your rod” and “your staff” give me courage. It’s no longer “he” and “me,” but now “you” and “me.” The shepherd has become most intimate with the sheep—an intimacy that grows ever stronger.
“You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes…”
“You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes;you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” The good shepherd becomes the greatest of hosts, showing us two wonderful signs of hospitality: He spreads a rich table—a banquet—before me. Then he anoints my head with oil, and my cup overflows. The Lord’s generous hospitality grows ever more abundant. As Christians, we see in the richly spread table a foreshadowing of the Eucharist and of the heavenly banquet.
“Only goodness and kindness follow me…”
“Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” We move from the experience of our present lives into what we call the heavenly Kingdom, “the end times” or “eschatological times”—the era of peace or salvation that we all seek.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11).