Friday, 5 May 2017

The activity of shepherds and sheep.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter
Year A                                                                           
Psalm 23

The Lord is the one shepherding; I lack nothing.

I’m at a meeting this weekend in Milan.  Our Lay Reader, Alison is preaching at Christ Church and our new Archdeacon, Walter Baer, will be standing behind the altar – all of which allows me here to wander through the readings with scant thought as to how an eventual sermon might turn out. 

I can afford to go off-topic or split a few hairs.  I’ll be back on form next week.

Two of the the three readings and the Psalm for this Sunday are “pastoral” in nature:  I mean this literally – they are “pastoral” - they all make some mention the person of the shepherd and the nature of his activity. 

The Lord is my shepherd.

You might be able to recite this with the book closed if you’re of a certain generation.   You’d be upset if you thought that you needed to say it differently or that the way you’re saying it is a mistranslation so, relax – you’re saying it right.  But – when you read it this Sunday in church (at least in an Episcopal church) you might take a peek at the Latin inscription in the Book of Common Prayer just above Psalm 23 on page 612 and muse over the words which you probably can’t immediately translate but could if you gave it some thought:

Dominus regit me

Either by intuition, or with the help of some residual school Latin, you’d note that the second word is a verb and not a noun.  The Lord shepherds me.  The Latin Vulgate was translated from the Greek Bible.  If you go to an earlier Greek version you find that it has a verb as well.  The Lord shepherd (or rules) me.

Both – the Latin and Greek - depend on a Hebrew antecedent and we should note that the Hebrew word is, in fact, a verb but it’s a verbal noun or a participle – a verb which behaves like a noun.  “The Lord is the one shepherding” or “the Lord is the one who shepherds”.

What’s missing from all three is that sense where one thing (the Lord) is another thing (a shepherd) and that metaphorical thing belongs to me.  The way we’ve learned it lends itself a bit to bumper stickers:

God is my commanding officer
The Lord is my shepherd
My love is a red, red rose.
My other car is a Maserati.

Shepherding and “being shepherded”, however, are verbs – action which is ongoing and continual.  It is a well-known fact of country life that sheep wander.  They need to be sought out by the shepherd.  They need to agree to follow.  That a relationship can be established between this noun (me) and that noun (the shepherd) is not the point. 


You might be a registered member of his flock with your paperwork in order.  You may also be stuck rather tightly in the crevasse you’ve wandered into and that trapped knee is beginning to ache.  

Let the activity of being shepherded – the finding and the following - recommence!