Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
The responsorial psalm for today’s celebration comes from Psalm 23, one of the most familiar and best-loved psalms of the entire psalter. It paints vivid pictures of a carefree existence, peaceful rest, and abundant fruitfulness.
God’s loving care, portrayed as that of a shepherd and a host, is drawn from traditions of the exodus (Isaiah 40:11, 49:10; Jeremiah 31:10).
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
The psalm opens with a metaphor that sets the tone for the entire song. It is the responsibility of the shepherd to find pastures that will provide enough grazing and abundant water for the entire flock, to lead them there without allowing any of the sheep to stray and be lost, to guard them against predators or dangers of any kind, and to attend to their every need.
To characterize the LORD as a shepherd is to trust that God will discharge all of these responsibilities. This metaphor is common in both the Old Testament (Ezekial 34:11-16) and the New Testament (John 10:11-18).
beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.
The personal dimension of the psalm shifts the care given to the entire flock to concern for one individual, making God’s care a very intimate matter. Not only are the physical needs of the psalmist satisfied, but the soul, the very life force (nepesh) of the person is renewed.
He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake.
The guidance of the shepherd is more than provident, it is moral as well. The psalmist is led in the paths of righteousness (i.e., the “right way”), and this is done for the sake of the LORD’s name. Since one’s name is a part of the very essence of the person, this indicates that the way of the LORD is the way of righteousness.
Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side
The valley of “deep darkness” can be a reference to the darkest part of the terrain or to the gloom that can overwhelm an individual. It also has a mythological connotation and is frequently interpreted as death. Whichever meaning is intended, the psalmist claims to be unafraid, for the presence of the LORD is reassuring.
with your rod and your staff that give me courage.
The psalmist is confident of the LORD’s protection, as demonstrated in his mention of the shepherd’s rod and staff, which were used to ward off wild animals and poachers.
You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes;
In addition to the image of God as shepherd, another metaphor is introduced. God is a generous host, one who prepares a lavish banquet and within whose house the psalmist ultimately dwells.
Many societies have a very strict code of hospitality. They are obliged to provide the very best provisions they have, even for their enemies. The LORD does just that here, which not only affords nourishment but also is a public witness to God’s high regard for the psalmist.
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
A perfumed ointment made from olive oil was used especially at banquets (Psalm 104:15; Matthew 26:7; Luke 7:37; John 12:2).
Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life;
The magnanimous care and generosity shown by God flow from enduring covenant kindness (hesed) rather than from some mere passing sentiment of heart. This tender commitment is as lasting as God’s covenant promises.
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.
The psalmist will continue to enjoy God’s favor in God’s house. Whether this refers to the Temple or simply indicates the place where God dwells, the fundamental meaning is clear: The psalmist has been under the loving guidance of the LORD and will remain there forever.