Psalm 22 (23) Commentary. Easter 4A

Perhaps Psalm 22, The Lord’s My Shepherd, is so popular because it is personal. The Lord is MY shepherd. At the core of the psalm is the phrase “with me” in verse 4; “with your crook and your staff to give me comfort”, even in the darkest of valleys! In Scotland we know the phrase, “I’m with you, Jimmy!” Psalm 22 says, “Lord is with you, Jimmy or Ellen or whoever you are. A lovely greeting anywhere, especially at the beginning of a church service.

With regard to its structure, the whole psalm falls into two sections, with its two metaphors of the Lord as guiding shepherd in verses 1-4, and as welcoming host at the table for verses 5-6. There’s also an interesting shift from the third person “he” to the second person “you”: he gives repose, he guides, he revives in verse 1-4, and that becomes “you prepare a banquet with an overflowing cup, you anoint with oil”. The psalm becomes more personal as it develops.  

The ending reminds me of Francis Thomson’s poem, The Hound of Heaven: “I fled him down the nights and down the days, I fled him down the arches of the years, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind …” The psalmist cries out about the goodness and steadfast love that hounds him or her. And so, finally, that tenacity of God’s love is appreciated as protecting, providing food, and path-finding. Verse 5 then says, “In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell”. The Hebrew word used here means not only “dwell” but “  return again and again”. The wandering sheep needs to return frequently to the Lord’s house, for sustenance and renewed vitality. 

The psalm occurs in the church’s liturgy on the 4rth Sunday of Easter in year A where it bridges nicely Peter’s sermon in Acts resulting in 3000 baptisms  and the Gospel where Jesus is the shepherd who calls his sheep one by one! 

A personal calling  … today!

That image of the shepherd being with us through green pastures and dark valleys is wonderful of course, but it has been imaginatively translated for differing circumstances.  I like that Japanese adaptation for busy people by Toki Myashina which runs, “The Lord is my pace-setter, I shall not rush; he makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals, providing me with images of stillness, restoring my serenity!”  Yes, time now to stop and rest with the Good Shepherd. Jesus was never in a hurry, was he?

Commentary on Ps 22 by Dr Noel Donnelly for the 4th Sunday of Easter 2023. Visuals: new lambs on Vatersay

Ps 22: words (c) The Grail, England; music (c) St Mungo Music. Recorded by Grace Buckley.