I was surprised, and glad, to see that the Lectionary text for the Psalm reading for this coming Sunday is Psalm 23. That was the first scripture I ever had to memorize, for a children's program at my church when I was about five years old. It's a Psalm of Trust, as Psalms are categorized, and it also offers a vision of pastoral scenes that tend to have a calming effect on the reader. Psalms of Trust usually followed some calamity or crisis, but no one knows what transpired to cause the author to compose Psalm 23. Rather, it seems that the Psalm is a reminder to God's people of the special relationship that exists between God and God's people. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, probably the most well-known of the passages in the Psalm and in the entire Bible, has more meaning than we might have assumed. The Hebrew word that is translated as "want" in the NRSV is rendered as "you shall lack nothing" when it occurs in Deuteronomy 2:7. Perhaps that translation is more to the point in this day and age when consumerism is the religion practiced most often. Translating that verb as "you shall lack nothing" reminds us that we already have all that we need, regardless of our financial standing. The Psalmist affirmed that the Shepherd, God, cares for us, the sheep, and in that special relationship lies everything we could ever need. Sadly, that part of the message has been co-opted so often, especially in contemporary Christianity, that we look at the things that we want, but do not posses, as signs that God is not faithful, or even relevant. CBS Sunday Morning recently profiled tele-evangelist Joel Osteen in a flattering piece that never took issue with his massive wealth, or the nature of his message, which has much to do with success as measured in earthly terms. I wrote to CBS and protested such a piece, run on Easter Sunday, not because I disagree with Osteen's philosophy, which I do, but because the reporter did not challenge the message of financial gain that Osteen promulgates. If, as the Psalmist states, we lack nothing, then why are we not more focused on working to make certain that others can offer the same proclamation, not because we help them find wealth, but because we work to make sure that they have food and shelter? I challenge you to read Psalm 23, slowly, meditating over each line and thinking about the implications of such a Psalm in today's world. You may just discover an old, familiar Psalm again for the first time!
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