A Sunday School teacher decided to have her young class memorize one of the most quoted passage in the Bible – Psalm 23. She gave the youngsters a month to learn the verse. Little Billy was excited about the task, but he just couldn’t memorize the Psalm. After much practice he could barely get past the first line. On the day that the children were scheduled to recite the Psalm in front of the congregation Bobby was so nervous. When it was his turn he stepped up to the microphone and said proudly, “The Lord is my Shepherd and that’s all I need to know!”
The Catholic preacher, Father Lane, begins a homily with the words of his friend. Father asked him how things were going and, after the friend described some of the challenges he was facing he added, “At least I’ve got Jesus!” The little boy in the above story was actually right on when he said, “I got Jesus and that’s all I need.”
We read in the gospels how Jesus was continually fulfilling the role of a Shepherd of the people. They were like sheep without a shepherd, wandering, confused, fearful and Jesus strongly desired to direct and guide them. We, too, might feel the same as those early followers. But, with Jesus as our Shepherd, we can confidently say as Father Lane’s friend, “At least we’ve got Jesus!” But think about that statement! When we have Jesus, yes, we truly have everything because Jesus is everything! And when we want nothing, then we can be really happy.
How do we get to this conclusion? What is required of us? It requires believing in Jesus, not just knowing about him but actually knowing him as a real person – as a friend. There’s a big difference here. Knowing about is an academic project; knowing Jesus as a real person requires spending time with him in prayer. It means turning to Jesus who, as it says in the psalm, walks with us in the valley of darkness, gives us comfort, and revives our spirits. When we go from knowing about Jesus to acknowledging Jesus as our Shepherd our life changes. The little boy had it right! That’s all we need.
It’s wonderfully good news that in our dark times we really are not alone, but God is with us, guiding, protecting and giving us the warmth of his presence. There are three positions that Jesus, the Shepherd, takes in his relationship with us. The first position is one of a leader who calls us by name, guides and assists us and we follow safely behind him. The second is that of the one who walks alongside of us, giving us comfort with his constant presence. Thirdly, the Shepherd is the one who is right behind us, guiding us and making sure we are on the correct path. No matter how Jesus walks with us on our journey, we can be absolutely positive that he is always acting with love and a desire for our good.
Psalm 23 reminds us of who we are and whose we are, of where we’ve been and where we are going. First, let’s think about and take to heart the little boy’s words, “The Lord is my Shepherd and that’s all we need to know.” But we can also, as the children in our story were directed by their teacher, go beyond the first line and commit to memorizing this beautiful Psalm. When we continue on with this beautiful psalm prayer we can remind ourselves each time we pray it of three important gifts that are ours: God’s love that enfolds us, the peace of Christ which surrounds us and the power of the Holy Spirit that is present within us – as we live with the powerful promise of one day “dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.”