This verse, used by Handel in his ‘Messiah’ shows the way that Israel used the metaphor of God as Shepherd to reflect upon their failures in maintaining a covenant life and relationship with God. To stray refers both to the practice of idolatry and the practice of violence, vengeance and social and economic injustice. The prophets usually tied the two together as a matter of fact. To worship any other god was to engage in a practice that would not only negatively impact one’s relationship with the true Creator, but also one’s relationship to other humans.
Idolatry connects to our modern lives in the often subconscious trust we place in other sources of comfort, strength or solace. It may be alcohol or drugs, eating or gambling. As a nation, as much as we proclaim that we place our trust in God, our actions betray a worship of economic growth and military might and power. Another of our idols is ourselves. Our culture continually tells us not only that we belong to no one but ourselves (when we belong to God in Christ) but also that our task is to discover and create our own individual identity. This isolated individualism makes us great consumers as in the quest for an identity, we are sold many great products that promise to give us meaning, identity and fulfill all longings. We can also become our own idols in seeking, perhaps out of fear, to be in control of the future, control of our lives which sometimes causes us to be manipulative and controlling of others. As a matter of fact, all the other idols seem promising because deep in the recesses of our consciousness we have tried to be our own gods, tried to create our own identities and control our existence and found ourselves wanting. So we turn to other authorities, missing the one authority that can actually make us who we were created to be, God.
The Lord is my shepherd offers us the daily reminder that we have placed our trust not in material goods, in wealth, in power or might, or even in ourselves, but in God alone. The Lord is my shepherd, offered as a daily prayer does bring the sometimes challenging and painful realization that we have put our trust in the wrong authorities, in admitting that we ourselves are not capable of directing the lives of others, or even our own, that we have made a mess. But as we discovered yesterday, and will revisit tomorrow, The Lord is my Shepherd is also the promise of rescue. Those who go astray, will be gathered. Ask yourself in prayer today, who is my shepherd. This is not always easy to discern. Give it time. Ask not today, but every day. Was anger or mercy, fear or hope, forgiveness or vengeance, myself or God, my shepherd today? Prayerfully consider how your time is spent. How your money is used. Prayerfully consider your reactions to stressful situations. All of these show us who is shepherding us. Then, pray, the Lord is my Shepherd and imagine being gathered back to the shelter and safe leading of God.