Here are two different interpretations of this well known psalm - from consolation and hope to serving each other.
Because the Lord is my shepherd,
I have ev’ry thing I need.
He lets me rest in the meadow and leads me
to the quiet streams.
He restores my soul and he leads me
in the paths that are right:
Lord, you are my shepherd,
you are my friend.
I want to follow you always
just to follow my friend.
And when the road leads to darkness,
I shall walk there unafraid.
Even when death is close I have courage,
for your help is there.
You are close beside me with comfort,
you are guiding my way:
In love you make me a banquet
for my enemies to see.
You make me welcome, pouring down honour
from your mighty hand,
and this joy fills me with gladness;
it is too much to bear:
Your goodness always is with me
and your mercy I know.
Your loving kindness strengthens me always
as I go through life.
I shall dwell in your presence forever,
giving praise to your name:
© 1985 Christopher Walker OCP Publications
Because the Lord is my Shepherd by Chris Walker –www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1oTLkhE9qM
Psalm 23 is probably one of the most well-known of all the psalms. It has been sung at weddings and funerals for generations and almost everyone has probably heard it at some point in their life. We will consider two versions of this psalm and the difference a word or a response can make to the meaning of the psalm for us.
This psalm is another of David’s psalms, not written when a young shepherd boy but when he is much older with many years of experience. He has known the valleys and shadows of death. He has struggled and battled with the odds against him. Yet in the end, he has always believed that he would dwell in God’s house forever. The main thrust of the psalm is one of commitment to God and trust in God.
This comes across very strongly in Christopher Walker’s composition of the psalm. His strong ‘BECAUSE’ at the beginning of the psalm confirms the sense of assurance in the Shepherd. ‘BECAUSE’ the Lord looks after me, as a shepherd looks after his sheep, I am safe, I am in good hands. Shepherds are very careful when it comes to their sheep. The imagery in scripture of the shepherd is strongly presented in John’s gospel. “I am the good shepherd” says the Lord, “I know my sheep and they know me” The use of this metaphor by Jesus is not to be dismissed. Shepherds do know their flock and they care about what happens to each and every lamb. Even if they have 100 and one goes missing they will go looking for it. So we are safe when it comes to shepherds.
It is not surprising that this psalm in particular is often sung at funerals. The very words give us confidence to know that we can go on when we lose someone important to us. We do not need to walk the road of grief afraid and alone. We can have courage because God is with us. When my own father died I sang this version of the psalm at his funeral. In my own grief and sadness I was not at all sure I would manage it but that word ‘BECAUSE’ was deeply significant and gave me all the strength I needed, not just to sing but to get through the days and weeks of sadness and loss that followed. Knowing the Lord to be my shepherd, I knew I had everything I needed. Of course I didn’t get through alone. There were good friends and relatives who supported me and my family. At the heart of it all though, knowing that the Lord’s goodness would always be with me was all I needed.
What does it mean to you to know that the Lord is a shepherd?
Does it make sense to you in your life?
What version of this psalm speaks to you and why?
Is there a particular word or phrase that strikes you and why does it?
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.
God is my shepherd, so nothing I shall want,
I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.
Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul,
you lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth,
my spirit shall sing the music of your Name.
Though I should wander the valley of death,
I fear no evil, for you are at my side,
your rod and your staff, my comfort and my hope.
You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred,
crowning me with love beyond my pow’r to hold.
Surely your kindness and mercy follow me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of my God forevermore.
© 1986 Marty Haugen GIA Publications
Shepherd Me O God by Marty Haugen – www.youtube.com/watch?v=jruM_bSvJSg
At his first Chrism Mass, Pope Francis spoke to the clergy of the world in a profound statement about the need for them, not only to be Shepherds to their sheep, but to get dirty with them so that they smelt like sheep. In other words he was saying you have to get in amongst the people to really understand and know their needs. The Lord is the Good Shepherd and a good shepherd is one that knows the needs of his flock. We need good shepherds to fully appreciate the one true shepherd who can lead us to understand that we are truly blessed by him. As members of the flock we want to go looking for the greener grass elsewhere. We can stray from the path that leads to goodness and in so doing, we find ourselves in difficulty.
This version of psalm 23 by Marty Haugen has a different response from the one that we looked at previously. The words for the verses are virtually changed with only slight differences to facilitate the music. However, the feel of the psalm is quite different from ‘Because the Lord is My Shepherd’ which offered us consolation and hope, particularly in times of distress or need. In this version, the response is more of a plea to God to steer us away from selfishness and personal concerns. It is a response which we might pray when we really want God to help us to consider the needs of others or possibly to avoid the path that leads away from God. It is particularly poignant as a Lenten psalm or a psalm within a liturgy of reconciliation.
Sometimes I find it very difficult dealing with change. It unsettles me. I can be very fearful and threatened by what change will bring. My colleagues at work have a knowing smile when it comes to talking to me about change. It is a gentle smile of recognition that we need to take care with how we do this and they are very good at helping me to manage the challenge which change brings. In addition to the support that my friends and colleagues give me I have found myself turning to God and praying this version of psalm 23 in particular. I don’t particularly like what change does to me. It can make me feel unreasonable but when I sing this psalm I can feel myself becoming unburdened. God is with me, God is taking care of me and I do not need to be afraid. The very words themselves can lead me to peace and comfort, knowing that ultimately I am not in charge but I am safe.
What do you fear or find difficult?
When have you found yourself turning to God for help and strength?
Which word or phrase in this version of the psalm speaks to you most?