Psalm 32, Easter 4B
Today I am meditating on Psalm 23 as I sit outdoors on myporch. I don't really know about sheep, sheepherding or Shepherds, but that doesn't seem to be the point does it. I do know the Shepherd and I want to know him more, and that seems to be the point.
There are a lot of different versions that have been written of Psalm 23 from the Sailor’s Prayer to the Indian’s version to the newest version. Psalm 23 is often described as the most popular Psalm, and most well known. If it is read at funerals, people can recite it with the reader. And even though we no longer in an agrarian society we are still touched by the opening words, The Lord is my shepherd.
Karl Jacobson at the Society for Biblical Literature has written an article called;
“Through the Pistol Smoke Dimly: Psalm 23 in Contemporary Film and Song” It is worth the read because it looks at Psalm 23 is popular among the popular—in songs you might actually hear on the radio or movies that aren’t released directly to DVD. He goes on to show some examples of songs and movies that have used Psalm 23 in them. Why is this important to us? Because I think it gives us a look at what culture is doing with scripture and how it is being used and interpreted in a whole different way than we may know. Does it matter on Sunday morning? You bet you it does. Because we may be thinking all warm fuzzies when we read the Psalms, and at the same time it has been read, sung or spoken in some other way. And those are the people we are to be witnessing to, and reaching out to. And we need to know, because that says to me that they don’t really know the shepherd and that they need to know the shepherd.
So if we know the shepherd are we letting others know him as well and what he means to us? Or is it that we too don’t know the shepherd? "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23," by W. Phillip Keller, which was first published in 1969. Mr. Keller was able to bring a unique perspective to the 23rd Psalm, based upon his life experience. As he explains it: "I grew up in East Africa, surrounded by simple native herders whose customs closely resembled those of their counterparts in the Middle East . . . I actually made my livelihood for about eight years as a sheep owner and sheep rancher . . . later, as the lay pastor of a community church, I shared the truths of this psalm, as a shepherd, with my "flock" every Sunday for several months."book "to keep in mind that the poet is recounting the salient events of the full year in a sheep's life. He takes us with him from the home ranch where every need is so carefully supplied by the owner, out into the green pastures, along the still waters, up through the mountain valleys to the high tablelands of summer." "Obviously, David, in this psalm, is speaking not as the shepherd, though he was one, but as a sheep, one of the flock. He spoke with a strong sense ofpride, devotion, and admiration. It was as though he literally boasted aloud, 'Look at who my shepherd is -- my owner -- my manager! The Lord is! . . . After all, he knew from firsthand experience that the lot in life of any particular sheep depended on the type of man who owned it. Some men were gentle, kind, intelligent, brave, and selfless in their devotion to their stock. Others were not. Under one man sheep would struggle, starve, and suffer endless hardship. In another's care they would flourish and thrive contentedly. . . It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways. Our mass mind (or mob instincts), our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance. . . . Yet despite these adverse characteristics Christ chooses us, buys us, calls usby name, makes us His own, and delights in caring for us."
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her work on shepherds and shepherding, offers us the insight that sheep might not be as dumb as we've been led to believe. She even suggests that the bad reputation sheep have may have arisen out of rumours spread by members of the cattle industry!"Cows" she says "are herded from the rear by hooting men on horseback cracking whips, but this doesn't work with sheep at all. Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first - namely their shepherd - who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.""Sheep tend to grow fond of their shepherds," she says. "A shepherd can apparently walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single sheep, while a stranger could not step a foot in the fold without causing pandemonium. Sheep develop a relationship with their shepherd that is quite exclusive. They develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to. A good shepherd can distinguish a bleat of pain from one of pleasure, while the sheep learns that a click of the tongue means food, or a two-note song means that it's time to go home."
There was once a Shakespearean actor who was known everywhere for his one-man shows of readings and recitations from the classics. He would always end his performance with a dramatic reading of Psalm 23.
Each night, without exception, as the actor began his recitation -"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want" - the crowd would listen attentively. And then, at the conclusion of the Psalm, they would rise in thunderous applause in appreciation of the actor's incredible ability to bring the verse to life.
But one night, just before the actor was to offer his customary recital of Psalm 23, a young man from the audience spoke up. "Sir, do you mind if tonight I recite Psalm 23?" The actor was quite taken back by this unusual request, but he allowed the young man to come forward and stand front and center on the stage to recite the Psalm, knowing that the ability of this unskilled youth would be no match for his own talent.
With a soft voice, the young man began to recite the words of the Psalm. When he was finished, there was no applause. There was no standing ovation as on other nights. All that could be heard was the sound of weeping. The audience had been so moved by the young man's recitation that every eye was full of tears. Amazed by what he had heard, the actor said to the youth, "I don't understand. I have been performing Psalm 23 for years. I have a lifetime of experience and training - but I have never been able to move an audience as you have tonight. Tell me, what is your secret?"
The young man quietly replied, "Well sir, you know the Psalm . . . I know the Shepherd."