16 Ordinary Time
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want,” if people only know one psalm, that psalm is Psalm 23, today’s responsorial psalm. Today, I would like to lead you in a reflection on this psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd. God wants to direct our lives. Jesus felt so bad for the people in today's Gospel because they had no one to shepherd them. He mourns also for us. The world can be a confusing place. Life can be confusing. Governments like those mentioned in the first reading, often demand that people violate their consciences for what they claim in the greater good. Historically, this has always resulted in the people participating in hidden, immoral agendas. We witnessed this happening the last century with the two extremes of fascism and communism. Most of the people of Germany did not have full knowledge of what the Nazis were doing to the Jews and others in the concentration camps. But they had a share of the guilt because in the name of national pride, they allowed bad shepherds to guide them. At the same time, there were good shepherds in Germany, people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who stood up for truth and died leading people to the Lord.
What should we do when we are confronted with what is presented as a small moral sacrifice for what is claimed to be a greater national good? This is not an easy question, particularly because we are invested in our country. We love America. But if we truly love our country, we need to shepherd it in ways that are just and merciful. We ourselves need a shepherd to guide us. We have one. The Lord is our shepherd. We should follow God. Right is right and wrong is wrong. We have to let God direct our lives, not politicians. This will protect us from taking the steps that would lead to great evil.
I shall not want. When I was a child, I thought that it is strange to say that I didn’t want God to be my shepherd. No, the phrase means that I will want for nothing. God provides that which we really need in life: a reason for being alive. Following our conscience leads us to rest in Christ, at peace with God and at peace with ourselves. People are looking for peace. The world provides stress. God provides rest. The psalm talks about restful waters. We can look at water for hours. From babbling brooks to the great oceans, it is so peaceful to look at the water. We let go of our stress. We just focus on the beauty before us. The psalm speaks about restful waters where God leads us. We can help others find those restful waters by encouraging them to be who they were meant to be, unique reflections of the image and likeness of God. There is peace in being true to ourselves.
He restores our souls. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that we should be perfect as His Heavenly Father is Perfect. But how can we be perfect? We are human. We are frail. Sometimes people carry such guilt that they give up on themselves, on religion and even on God. We can be good shepherds for them. We can let them know that what the Lord is saying is that we should be sincere, truthful to our best selves. That is what the word that is used in the Sermon on the Mount really means. Be sincere as my heavenly Father is sincere. When our external actions reflect our inner beings, we are at one with God and with ourselves. We can help others find integrity in their lives by living as sincere people. Our souls can be are restored to God's original purpose for our creation. Then we and they will be at peace. When we are at peace with ourselves and with our God, we want for nothing.
And though I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil. Yes there are continual challenges in life. But the present life is just a part of the totality of our lives. Here, we are in the valley of death. We are mortal. We become sick and die. Worse, our loved ones die. Still, through all the pain, the suffering and the sorrow, we ultimately trust in God. You are with me, the Psalm proclaims. He is. He guides us with His rod and staff. He gives us gentle shoves, and sometimes not so gentle shoves. But we are comforted with knowing that whatever happens, the Lord is in charge. He will take care of us. In fact, even when others attack us for our devotion to Him, when others mock us for our faith, even when other Catholics deride us for our determination to live what we profess, God will win out. We can shepherd others to recognize this present reality: God always wins. Jesus Christ is the Victor. Those who oppose us because we live our faith will eventually witness God's caring for us at the banquet of His Love. He sets a table before me in the face of my foes.
Psalm 23 ends with the great promise: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. If we have the courage to live united to the Lord, we will experience his goodness and kindness in this life and union with Him in the next life.
The world needs good shepherds, and the world needs the Good Shepherd. Jesus was with His disciples when He felt the hurt of so many people without shepherds. He sent the disciples to care for his people, to shepherd them. The Lord still has pity on those in pain. Now we are the disciples. He sends us to bring healing, and mercy, and goodness and truth to the world.
We can be and we must be good shepherds.