In Psalm 23, David tells us about Jesus and his relationship to us. We might appreciate who Jesus is and what he does for us by contrasting both with the false Olympian gods and what they do to us.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (King James Version, 1611).
Jesus is our shepherd. He takes care of us. He goes so far as to commit himself to nurturing and protecting us without condition. He seeks to provide every one of us with green pastures and still waters.
The Olympian gods are not like this. They shepherd us conditionally; that is, only so long as we serve them as means of accomplishing their goals. Once we fail, they eat us.
Jesus leads us into paths of righteousness. To be righteous means to live in a rightly ordered way in relation to God, others, creation, and self. Jesus alone leads us along the right path—the difficult path of freedom based on truth, expressed through love, and ending in fullness of life. When we follow him, we are able to share more fully with others his truth, love, and vitality.
He leads us on this particular path for his name’s sake. Jesus would rightly like us to associate his name with all that is free, true, loving, and full of life. Of course, the Olympian gods would like the name of Jesus and the words church and Christian to be associated with all that is rigid, narrow-minded, judgmental, and hypocritical. Lately we Christians have been aiding the enemy in making this sorrowful association to the grief of our still long-suffering savior.
With Jesus we need not fear. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus enables us to cast aside fear and respond creatively to evil. When the apostle Paul suffered persecution, he didn’t ask Jesus to smite his enemies. He prayed for greater boldness. The Spirit helps us do the same.
The Olympian gods, conversely, love to instill fear. The greater our fear, the greater their ability to control us. They want us to think that without them and our loyalty to them, we are left with only misery, insecurity, guilt, and meaninglessness. So, for example, unless we are willing to devote ourselves to Pluto, false god of money, at the expense of others, creation, and our own true selves, Pluto wants us to fear facing nothing but a future of financial insecurity, a present of meaningless impoverishment, and a past full of guilt over missed chances for making more money.
Jesus comforts us with his rod and staff; that is, with the words he speaks to us today that guide us against bad decisions and pull us out of the hard spots we get ourselves into. This comforting rod, by the way, is the same rod spoken of in the proverbial expression, spare the rod, spoil the child. To be more accurate, the original statement is, Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him (Proverbs 13:24, English Standard Version). Olympian misinterpretations aside, the proverb was always about guiding our children in the same way that Jesus guides us.
David talks about vindication. This isn’t the sort of destructive vengeance the Olympian gods would have us dreaming of. This is Jesus showing our enemies that we were right in our witness to him by having them present at a banquet publicly honoring us.
The men of King James tell us through their translation that goodness and mercy will follow us. The Hebrew word so translated has more the connotation of hounding, as in, goodness and mercy pursuing us with vigor all the days of our lives. That’s because it is Jesus who is our shepherd. Neither goodness nor mercy are qualities that Olympians like to practice.
Where is the house of the Lord today? Wherever Jesus our shepherd has gathered at least two of us together. Thanks be to God that we get to be with him, together, today and forever.
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