“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want…” This line, from Psalm 23, is one of the most recognizable lines in all of scripture. I know I’ve heard it most often when someone is worried or afraid and is in need of a few words of comfort. What does it mean, though? What does it mean for us? For you?
Let’s break down the line, “The Lord is my shepherd”, word by word. If you were to say, “The LORD is my shepherd”, you would be making a pretty definitive (and very powerful) statement about how your life is ordered. Letting ANYONE else tell you what to do is hard. Giving your life over to a God you believe in through faith, but cannot always see in a conventional way, can be very difficult. It might even make you look a bit crazy to those who do not know the Lord. That is, however, what our Lord requires. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me…” Jesus said that right after calling Peter ‘Satan’ for questioning that Jesus’ life would end by being killed at the hands of the chief priests and elders. Peter, no doubt, feared that his own life could end the same way. This is the same Peter, though, who in our first reading today was able to stand up and publicly say: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” No longer was Peter afraid of where discipleship with Jesus might lead him. Through faith, and filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter could confidently state who Jesus was and is. Jesus is Lord. The LORD is my shepherd. Can you say the same thing?
Next, if you were to say, “The Lord is MY shepherd”, you are making this faith VERY personal. In the Gospel today, Jesus says things like: “…and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…” and “…the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice…” This suggests a shepherd (God) who is interested in being very close to His sheep (us). That is very Good News. And God has done God’s part in all of this, affording us all the opportunity to be extremely close to Him through the sacraments, through prayer, doing service in God’s name, and even through devotionals like adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Are you doing your part to grow closer to God? Are you taking advantage of these opportunities, or are you making God do all the work?
Finally, if you were to say, “The Lord is my SHEPHERD”, you are stating without a doubt that you recognize God as your leader/guide and know that your role is to be part of the flock. It can be very difficult to see ourselves this way. After all, God created us unique and special, right? Right, but all of us have in common the urge to sin, the need for God and others, a shared mortality, etc. Recognizing that we are part of a community with God at the head, a community that leans on one another in good times and bad, can help us to be free of this need to live our lives on our own and for ourselves. Let God be your shepherd and be free! As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “…I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Let God tell you what that ‘life’ is supposed to be about. Then you can say with confidence, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want”.