4th Sunday of Easter Reflection by Patrick Sinozich

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,
He leadeth me to lie down in green pastures.

Arguably the most well-known of the psalms, a musical setting of Psalm 23 was used as the theme song to one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, The Vicar of Dibley, and the text has been set to music by many composers, from Duke Ellington to Bobby McFerrin. Its peaceful and powerful words have touched centuries of Christians throughout the world, and its gentle and hopeful images have lent themselves to many a funeral.

But what do we 21st century city dwellers know about shepherds and sheep? Well, did you know that sheep can recognize their shepherd’s voice? In a pen with four flocks all mixed up, one shepherd can call out and only his sheep will come. To me that’s pretty amazing. The shepherd then leads the sheep to pasture. They aren’t driven like cattle, they’re led. In the psalm above God is seen as a shepherd, and in today’s Gospel Jesus stresses the importance of the sheep knowing their shepherd’s voice. They won’t follow the voice of a stranger; they run from it.

Another striking aspect of Psalm 23 is that the Lord is my shepherd. Not a shepherd or our shepherd but my shepherd. The use of the first person singular brings forth an extremely intimate expression of God’s care. The impact of such a personal statement elicits a vibrancy unique in the Old Testament. In fact, nowhere else in the Bible does anyone say “the Lord is my shepherd.”

(Today’s second reading also picks up the sheep language, telling us that we had “gone astray like sheep.”)

Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side.

I once had a summer job directing musicals in the mountains of western North Carolina. Walking home from work at the end of the show each evening required passing through a dark, wooded area. I remember one overcast night when the stars were obscured. It was so incredibly dark that I couldn’t see the road in front of me. I’ve similarly experienced “dark” times in my life, when my inner vision was completely unable to see the way ahead. Did I fear no evil during these times? Hardly. I would like to have been as brave as the psalmist, possessing the faith to sense God at my side. Yet even without sensing it, God was there. How could it be otherwise?

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises abundant life. The Greek word used by John actually means “life beyond necessity.” Goodness will overflow in our lives, beyond our wildest dreams. We’ve moved from sheep-images of pastures and water to human-images of tables and cups. Jesus has called us out of the pen that confines us into a life of superabundance.

Do I hear the voice of Jesus calling me to this bountiful life? Do I recognize his voice among all the other voices shouting at me all day long? Do I create some quiet space where I can actually listen? Thieves and robbers (of my soul, my spirit, my heart) will try to steal from me all that is good unless I hear and obey the voice of God calling each day.