Psalm 23: 1-2, 2-3, 5-6
The responsorial psalm for this week 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 do 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 fo these responsibilities. This metaphor is common in both the Old Testament (Ezekial 34:11-16) and 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.
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 depicting God as 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 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 indicates the Temple or is merely a reference to 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.