Good Shepherd, Good Host

By Pamela Lewis

A Reading from Psalm 23

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those
who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.


Those of humble origins who have reached great professional heights often unashamedly recall their early years of poverty or struggle. Some Bible commentators believe that David wrote this allegorical psalm when he was a king, but reflected back to when he was a young shepherd, an occupation that he was not ashamed of.

Here, the former shephered becomes one of the sheep, and the Lord is the shepherd, as stated in the opening verse. In ancient Middle Eastern cultures, this would not have been unusual, given that a shepherd, so closely connected to his sheep, may have felt at one with them. In another sense, according to Eastern thought, a king was considered a shepherd.

The idea of “I shall not want” infers that God, the good and loving shepherd, provides the lamb-psalmist with everything he needs: green and nourishing pastures, still and thirst-quenching waters, and safety from threats of harm and death. Sheep were not wild animals, and they were bought at a great price, requiring attentive care by the shepherd.

Sheep tend to stray, and using his rod and staff, the shepherd guides and leads them. They never have to worry about where to go, only to know where the shepherd is.

The second part of this allegory depicts a splendid banquet provided by the best host imaginable, who is Christ. He has been — and is — our shepherd, as well as the provider of the banquet, and we are all his sheep and his guests.

Even when surrounded by myriad enemies, may we, with David, be protected by the twin angels of goodness and mercy and dwell eternally in the Lord’s house.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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