Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
If you have read my blog for long, you may have noticed that I often comment on Psalm 23. That’s one of the strong points of using a lectionary. Especially with the Psalms, we revisit passages and reflect on their interactions with the other selected readings and with the time of the church year. Maybe over time we can get away from the high altitude flyover and look more closely at details.
So we turn to a detail. Augustine of Hippo gave me the idea to look at a transition between verses four and five. The center of the idea is the comfort from the Lord’s rod and staff. Before, we get an idea of rescue from evil. After, we have the vision of comfortable safety. In the middle there’s a rod, which is a weapon, and a staff, which is an instrument for guidance and support.
The picture given in this Psalm is that of a Lord who forcefully fights off the enemies of his people. He brings us through a place of death, and he fights death off for us. He is quite forceful. He can use his rod to stop enemies, beat them back, or even kill them. Whatever is needed to protect his people, that is what he does. With that work complete, as we are present in his realm, he uses a staff. He guides us in his ways. There’s no threat, though there is correction. Here, guided by thestaff of God, we find all thegood things he has for us - protection, food, drink, healing - all the good we will ever need.
The same Lord fights off the enemies and feeds his people. The difference is in whether those people believe he is there to promote their good. He calls all people to trust him. That’s the difference between being one he guards and one he opposes. We are welcome to his banquet. Why not come?
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