Reading 5—The Shepherd and the flock

Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved and cited passages from Scripture. It is often used as a funeral psalm, but it is also used for those planning to adopt a child (Book of Common Prayer, 443). This is one of the many psalms ascribed to King David, and it discusses the relationship between David and God. David describes the personal relationship between Israel and God, as God is the shepherd of the flock, Israel. As it describes the relationship between God and his people, it also describes how David served as a shepherd, his former profession, and then his kingship. He guided both flocks into the way of righteousness. He sought to uphold the covenant instituted by God to Israel’s ancestors, but David acknowledged God as the ultimate sovereign. Throughout the psalm, David alludes to Israel’s history as God shepherding his people from slavery into life (Ps. 23:4). The Israelites endured 460 years of slavery in Egypt, and God working through Moses, shepherded them into the Promised Land. God’s “rod” and “staff” were the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, and this brought comfort to the Israelites. God then delivered his people from the warring tribes in the Promised Land, and they shared in the banquet prepared for them by God. David sings the praise of God in this psalm, and God continues to bless his people.

As Christians today hear this psalm, we are reminded that Jesus serves as our Good Shepherd, a title that he gives himself throughout the gospels. It is in John’s Gospel where we are given the brief discourse as the duties of the shepherd. The shepherd is to lay down his life to protect his flock, and Jesus fulfills this through his death on the cross. It is through the cross that we are given new life by God’s saving mercy through the power of Jesus. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” references this personal nature Jesus has with his sheep, the church, and this personal nature is also invoked by David when references God as his shepherd (John 10:14; Ps. 23:1). It is through Christ’s death on the cross and his glorious resurrection that we can no longer fear evil. It is at Christ’s table that his sheep are fed, nurtured, and renewed.

To Consider

  • At an initial glance, what are some images that come to mind when you think of a shepherd?

  • As people of faith, how are we called to be sheep to God’s flock?

  • In what ways are the baptismal promises we make (to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the Word and share in the Lord’s Supper, to proclaim the Good News through word and deed, to serve all people following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace throughout the world) reminiscent of a sheep following the voice of the shepherd?

Holy and Gracious God, you sent your Son Jesus to serve as a shepherd to your wayward flock. Continue to guide us along the path of righteousness, so that we may fear no evil and join the shepherd at the heavenly feast. Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Thomas Johnston is a senior in the Religious Studies Program at Lenoir-Rhyne University. He is from Charlotte and enjoys reading.