Rev. John Zehring has served as Senior Pastor to UCC churches in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. He is the author of more than sixty books and is a regular writer for The Christian Citizen.
Scripture: Psalm 23:6a (NRSV)
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
Reflection: Follow Me
What does this last verse of Psalm 23 mean? Might it mean that if you follow the Shepherd, then good things will come your way for the rest of your life? That does not reconcile with earlier parts that indicate that even devoted people of faith will walk through valleys of dark shadows and that evil exists. The bible never says that there will not be evil – only that God will be with you and then you need not fear evil. The idea that only good things will come your way does not reconcile with experience, for all know that life is a balance and that bad things happen to good people. Common sense rules out that interpretation of the verse.
Consider other translations of the verse:
Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life. (CEV)
Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. (The Message)
Goodness now becomes kindness or beauty. Mercy is changed to love. Each of these words is one of the fruits of the spirit, from Galatians 5:22 which tells about the characteristics of a person when God’s spirit dwells within: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (or generosity), faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Choosing to own the credo The Lord is my Shepherd or to make the fruits of the spirit your goals may be about the same thing. A person who follows the shepherd or who desires God’s spirit within will aim to be a loving, kind and good person.
I was meeting with a renowned person of significant achievements. I asked him: “What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?” His answer almost knocked me off my chair. He responded: “I just want to be a good person.” The more I thought about his answer, the more I came to see that, of all the goals to which we aspire, maybe it is enough just to want to be good… a good person. More than just enough, perhaps that is the summit to which we should aspire. A person in whom the Spirit dwells will choose being a good person as a life goal.
People of faith speak of seeing the good in others. It is the attribute of the strong to see the good in each person and to recognize that there is that of God in every person. Each person is a unique wonder, never to be repeated in all of history, and should be treated as God’s most sacred creation. When you see people that way, goodness follows you.
Up to now, Psalm 23 has been about what the follower receives from the Shepherd: he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul, he guides me with his staff, he protects me with his rod, he anoints my head to keep things from bugging me, and he fills my cup to overflowing. In many ways, this is all about what the follower gets.
Now consider the unique wording to this last verse: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me. Follow me. Is follow me one more thing the follower receives? Or, could there be a deeper meaning?
What follows you? Think about the waves that follow a boat. That is called a wake. People speak of being left in the wake. The wake of a boat can extend for miles behind and out to the sides. Look down from a satellite view and you can hardly see the boat traversing, but you can spot the long and wide wake following.
What if, instead of us receiving, this verse also means that we leave goodness and mercy behind us in our wake? What if this verse means that when you follow the shepherd, there will be beauty, kindness, love, mercy, and goodness that flows out of you and trails behind in your wake wherever you encounter people? Now the emphasis is not so much on what you get, but on what you radiate when God’s inner light dwells in you. Doesn’t that make sense? People who own Psalm 23 as their life’s credo radiate a candlepower of one that shines its light in the darkness and inspires them to “just want to be a good person.”
Loving God, I pray that I may leave goodness and mercy in my wake, so that others may see these qualities of the Spirit within me and give glory, not to be but to you. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for the more than 563,000 dead due to the Covid-19 disease
- For the victims and their families of the 150 mass shootings already carried out in 2021, including a shooting at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis where 9 died
- For an end to the racism that permeates our society
- For the family and friends of Rev. Earl W. Miller, former pastor in the Old Colony Association (MA), who died on April 13
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the installation of Rev. Dr. Audrey Price, Executive Minister for Strategic Operations, who was installed by the Southern New England Conference on April 17
This Week in History:
April 20, 1999 (22 years ago) Two teenage gunmen kill 13 people at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. The two teens wounded 23 other people before committing suicide. The school shooting sparked nationwide gun debates, as well as debates on the effects of video games, music, and mental health. Despite the public impact of the shooting, The Washington Post found that an average of 10 school shootings per year have happened since Columbine (as of 2018). In contrast, the federal government has passed only two gun-related laws in that time, both designed to protect retailers and manufacturers of guns from lawsuits.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”