Peace–Peace Unlocks Provision, Abundance, and Restoration: a Reflection on Psalm 23
Psalm 23 is second only to John 3:16 as a most memorized passage in the Bible by Christians. “The Lord is my shepherd.” The word “Lord” could be read in an impersonal manner meaning master or owner. But in our text, it is personal. The Hebrew word translated “Lord” is Yahweh, which is the personal name of God. Yahweh is our shepherd, not some distant or nameless deity. And “shepherd” brings the personal and sovereign God of the universe into an immanent and engaging focus. James Luther Mays writes, “Although the use of shepherd as an image of God as sovereign over the people was well established in Israel, its use in a first person singular confession is unparalleled. It is the focus of the shepherd’s care on one person that gives the psalm such intimate force.”
What is the disposition of the shepherd? In the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word “disposition” is defined as “a person’s inherent qualities of mind and character.” The disposition of some people is to be negative and crabby. The disposition of God, our shepherd, is to do good and be merciful. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”
The terms “goodness” and “mercy” refer to God’s inherent qualities of mind and character. God’s disposition is one of acting goodly and mercifully toward people. And given that human is undeserving this is an incredible gift…to receive goodness and mercy from God. The commitment of the shepherd is total. It’s not God giving us 80%, if we can come up with the remaining 20%.
At the age of 45, Michael May regained his sight. May was blinded at age three, and lived 42 years of his life without sight. In 1999, he was given the possibility to see again through what was at that time a revolutionary transplant surgery. When the doctors removed the surgical bandages from his eyes, May couldn’t perceive space or see height, distance, depth, or three-dimensional shapes. Michael May didn’t get discouraged by the long learning curve. He knew that learning to see again would involve not just the operation, but a lifelong quest to learn, grow, take risks, and change. As he left the hospital, May peppered his wife with questions: “What’s this? What’s that? Is that a step? Is that a flower? He rode elevators over and over again for the sheer pleasure of finding the hotel lobby after the ride. May played catch with his son, horribly missing many balls before he finally got the hang of it. He continued to struggle with his transition to the reality of sight. The transformation was slow. As a result, every day and even every failure seemed like a new opportunity for Michael May to learn, grow, and change.
Psalm 23 is a plea to acknowledge that God’s disposition is set to shepherd each of us individually and collectively as a church family with goodly and merciful care. Why? Because God is for us, not against us. J. Clinton McCann Jr., the Evangelical Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Eden Theological Seminary, writes “…Psalm 23 is a resource not only for situations of threat or loss, but also for our living every day.” Psalm 23 is a communal psalm of confidence. It is a testimony by David of what God had done and continued to do in his life. The text in Psalm 23 makes one point for our consideration. Followers of Jesus Christ, the Shepherd Lord supplies our every need. God supplies our every need, not because we deserve, earn, or acquire it. God supplies our every need, because God’s disposition is to dispense, extravagantly, goodness and mercy to us.
“The Lord is my shepherd.” We shall not lack guidance. God leads us in paths of righteousness. “The Lord is my shepherd.” We shall not lack anything we need. God’s motive for such generosity is to display the honor of God’s name. “The Lord is my shepherd.” We shall not lack protection. God’s presence is our comfort, no matter the suffering, pain, or circumstances. So, for your guidance (provision), lacking nothing you need (abundance), and protection (restoration), I urge you to let God shepherd you. Receive peace.
Yet, peace can be illusive. Walter knew the problems of interracial romance. Many black men in the South had been murdered by lynching for such a romance. According to Bryan Stevenson the author of Just Mercy, “And now it seemed to Walter that everyone in Monroe County was talking about his…relationship with Karen Kelly. It worried him in a way that few things ever had.” Walter was restless. Peace was increasingly illusive. And then an unthinkable act sent shockwaves through Monroeville. “In the late morning of November 1, 1986, Ronda Morrison, the beautiful young daughter of a respected local family, was found dead on the floor of Monroe Cleaners, the shop where the eighteen-year-old college student had worked. She had been shot in the back three times.” And it wasn’t long before Walter, a black man having an affair with Karen Kelly, a white woman, was linked to the death of Ronda Morrison, a white woman he had never met.
Being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ is simply a matter of receiving the peace of God. Just as the blind man when brought before the Pharisees experienced God’s peace, we are to do the same in the situations we face. God’s peace that is provision, abundance, and restoration is for each one of us and our community of faith. The Lord is your shepherd…my shepherd…our shepherd. Be confident in God’s peace. And experiencing God’s peace requires learning, risking, and changing.
James Luther Mays, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Psalms (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox press, 2011), 119.
Adapted from an article written by Robert Kurson, “Into the Light,” in Esquire (June 2005).
J. Clinton McCann Jr. in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 109.
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (New York City, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014), 30.