Written By REV Walter McEntee

Reading: John 10.1-10 Jesus the Good Shepherd
‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by
another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the
sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own
sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of
them, and sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but
they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this
figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me
are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters
by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to
steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Psalm 23 of David The Divine Shepherd
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a
table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup
overflows. 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.
Homily
+ May I link today’s Gospel from John 10.1-10 with King David’s Psalm 23. My puny brain
could find little to comment upon with the John, so, I have used the Psalm much more. I am
quite wordy in giving a background to David, the author of Psalm 23. Once again, please just
dip into this homily as much as you can, whenever you can. We’re in this together.
3000 years ago, the prophet Samuel had been badgered by the people’s insistence into
choosing Saul, as the first king of Israel. Saul had not been divinely appointed, and, in time, he
would be rejected by God and be slain in battle against a coastal people, the Philistines,
together with his would-be successor-three sons. Saul’s continual warfare had reduced the
king to a war-maddened monster. In time, the tribes of Israel learned that the prophet,
Samuel, had anointed a former shepherd boy, David, to replace Saul. The tribes asked him
‘“The Lord God said to you, you will shepherd my people, and, you will become their ruler,” when
will this be?’ When he learned of the plan, Saul became inflamed with fury and took to the
desert wastes to seek out David to destroy him. Distracted with hatred, Saul lost focus with
the real enemy Philistines and brought about his own death in an ill-advised battle with them.
David became the second and greatest king of Judah [2 Samuel 5.1]. In the Holy Lands, kings
were “royal caretakers” for God, who was the “Good Shepherd.” Kings were expected to care
for people like a shepherd. David grew up as a good shepherd, who in Psalm 23.1, he saw God
as his own shepherd. As a lad, he cared for his sheep to the extent that he put his life on the
line to take care of his flock. When the Philistine danger threatened Israel, the youthful David
offered to fight the enemy, crowing “I’ve killed lions and bears to protect my sheep. Surely God
will be with me to destroy the Philistine giant, who comes against God’s people” [1 Samuel
17.34]. John Bunyan wrote of David in his hymn: “Who would true valour see, let them come
hither…Those who beset them round with dismal stories cannot the brave confound: their
strength the more is. No lion can them fright, they’ll with a giant fight, but each will have a right
to be a pilgrim.”

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In flight from Saul, David, as king-in-waiting, raised a mercenary band of rebels and
malcontents, which became a unit of professional soldiers. Once, David and his followers
were hiding in a great cave, when King Saul left his troops and his maddened pursuit to
relieve himself in private in that very cave. It wasn’t the done thing for a monarch to void in
the public gaze! Urged by his men to strike, “now’s your opportunity!” outlawed David could
not commit regicide. He could not kill “the Lord’s anointed.” There was self-interest here. To
kill an anointed king would set a precedent whereby David could himself be removed one
day. David was a very complex character. In the same period of deadly rivalry with Saul,
while he refused regicide, to obtain food for his starving outlaws, David lied to the priests of
Nob that he was acting for the king, knowing full well, what vengeance the mad monarch
might exact for their help. When Saul discovered the priests had assisted his sworn enemies,
he massacred the eighty-five priests “still wearing their priestly garments,” their innocent
families and all their animals! [1 Samuel 22.9-19]. After his accession, David allowed an ally
to impale seven of the sons of Saul [2 Sam.21].
David understood pain. Saul was the brute who broke up David’s marriage to his loving and
courageous Michal, who was distraught at her father’s attempts to kill her husband. Saul wed
her to another, because she had helped David to flee the king’s clutches. This intense sadness
could have been why David later wrote Psalm 22, which Jesus recited from memory upon the
Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from
the words of my groaning? [22.1]. At this time, the “green pastures” and “still waters” of which
he would write in Psalm 23 seemed to be a mirage. Yet David ended the psalm, rejoicing “All
the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him…future generations will be told about the lord and proclaim his
deliverance to a people yet unborn” [Psalm 22.27,30]. Jesus brought this about.
The Gospels tell of at least twelve water crossings by Jesus and his team. The Sea of Galilee is
surrounded by hills. In the afternoons, the seawater cools more quickly than the surrounding
hills, sucking warmth from the hills to cause anabatic winds, an upward motion, which stirred
the waves to tempest strength, as in a cauldron. We encounter storms in life, where we may
feel that God can’t or won’t work. It may be intense worry over the corona virus, or financial
concerns, or bitter relationship storms in families. One evening, caught without warning,
Jesus’ experienced fisher-folk found themselves in an unparalleled storm, with waves
crashing over their boat. Panicking, they cried to Jesus, asleep in the stern, “Don’t you care
that we are perishing?” Rudely awakened, Jesus asked “Why are you afraid? You have so little
faith” or “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts” [Matthew 8.26] and stilled the storm.
When we truly understand who our God is, we will understand that God controls both the
storms of nature and our storms of a troubled heart. Where we know Jesus is, the
circumstance changes wholly. We should never discount his power even in terrible trials. We
have accepted Jesus as our Lord, as the disciples were seeking to do. But, were they, are we,
still living lives without trust? The Good Shepherd affirms “Trust me, you of little faith. As the
waves of this corona virus wash over your boat, trust me.”
David was utterly convinced that God was on his side and he was on the side of God. None of
his successors equalled David; by comparison, other than his son and heir, Solomon. All
subsequent kings were found to be wanting. But, there was a shadow side to David’s
personality. After many victorious campaigns, the veteran David, felt the days of hard
soldiering for the Lord was over. The somewhat self-indulgent king had wives and
concubines, yet, lazing on his palace roof, he saw on a nearby house-top, an exceptionally
beautiful Bathsheba, bathing. But Bathsheba was married to one of David’s trusted soldiers,
Uriah. The woman should have refused the summons to the royal bedchamber. A better
woman than she, Queen Vashti, wife of Artaxerxes of Persia, in 483 BCE, refused to parade at

her drunken husband’s command in an unheard of show of immodesty before his wine-
soaked cronies. This principled wife, who exalted modesty, was expelled from court lest her

action lead to an epidemic of women refusing the commands of their husbands! [Ezra 4.5-7].
With what could be seen as divine intervention, Vashti was replaced by Esther, a knock-out
Jewess-in-exile, who persuaded her new kingly husband to intervene to save the multitude of

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Jewish exiles in the Persian Empire from certain annihilation at the fiendish hands of a
notorious anti-Semitic grand vizier, Haman [Esther 1.12]. Her intervention became the Jewish
annual celebration of Purim. God does work in mysterious ways! A later rhyme ran: “David
and Solomon led very wicked lives, used to spend their mornings out with other fellers’ wives.
But, in the evenings, their conscience gave them qualms. So Solomon wrote Wisdom and David
wrote the Psalms.”
David wrote several of the 150 Psalms, (including Psalms 22 and 23) especially Psalm 51,
which is a lament of remorse, following his adultery with Bathsheba. David’s murder of her
husband, Uriah, to cover his involvement, was also to protect Bathsheba from the penalty of
adultery. Allegedly, this was his only stain upon the royal escutcheon. Psalm 51 is a window
into David’s soul. He wrote “I did what was right in the sight of God and did not turn aside from
anything that he commanded all the days of my life, except in the matter of Uriah, the Hittite” [1
Kings 15.5]. As years passed, the old warrior, David, was force to suffer a quiver full of
sorrows. His second son, Absalom, expected to succeed as King, and planned to usurp power
before David died [2 Samuel 15.1].The civil war which Absalom began, forced the king to flee
from Jerusalem. David left with his whole family, but abandoned his concubines to suffer the
fate of victors. This act hardly conjures a character of responsibility. Yet, when Absalom was
defeated and killed, the news of his death reduced David to heart-break “O my son Absalom,
my son, my son, Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son” [2 Samuel
18.33]. Another rebellious son, Adonijah, also expected to succeed, and began to overthrow
David, who had chosen Bathsheba’s son, Solomon, as his co-regent in his grey hairs. In the
blood feud-vengeance, which followed, Adonijah, was also killed.
The ageing, now feeble David suffered from subclinical hypothermia, a low-body
temperature. He just could not get warm. His servants had Abishag, a young and very
beautiful virgin, lie constantly with the ailing old man, using her body heat to warm him.
From his sick bed, her superabundant vitality and practical nursing energized David
sufficiently to order the faithful priest Zadok, and Nathan the prophet (their names are
recalled in the English Coronation Anthem), to anoint Bathsheba’s son at Gihon. Solomon
rode on David’s mule as King Jesus will so do 1000 years later, when he rode into Jerusalem
on Palm Sunday [1 Kings 1.33].
Into his twilight years, David had wanted for nothing. He would have had wives and
concubines, palaces, robes, obsequious courtiers. Now, his aged, cold body wanted nothing
more than to be kept warm by the young warm body of his companion Abishag. Propped up,
the aged monarch may have looked out from his palace towards Bethlehem, his birthplace.
He may have seen sheepfolds with stone walls. While penned, the sheep have the protection
of such walls. The gate keeps the sheep enclosed at night. The shepherd and the gate work for
the well-being of the sheep. When the shepherd led out the sheep, s/he became their only
protection, and all the protection they need, if the shepherd is a “Good Shepherd.” In John’s
account today, Jesus tells us “I am the gate” or door which guarded the well-being of the
sheep. We are safe with him, in him. If we wander away, he comes searching for us.
In the Gospel text above, John further developed the image: “I am the gate for the
sheep…whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” [John
10.7-9]. Jesus was reciting an Old Testament practice. When a slave had served a six-year
bond, s/he may wish to remain to serve a kind master for life. The slave would be taken to the
front door (“the gate”) where their ear was pierced with an awl, as a sign of ownership; the
mark of voluntary belonging would remain for life [Exodus 21.5]. Jesus implied that to belong
to him, to enter the flock-fold, we must bear the mark of his “ownership.” The willing mark
we accept is baptism and what happens at baptism? When we choose to become a Christian,
we choose to die to sin. And, what do we do with dead things? We bury them. We were buried
in the watery grave of baptism. We died. But, we don’t stay buried. Like Jesus, we rise to walk
in the newness of life [Romans 6.3-4]. In the early church, this death-rising was carried out at
the river-side. The candidate was plunged under in a full immersion, a ‘burial’ in the waters,

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to rise and be covered in a scented white gown, which has become our white christening
robe.
The good shepherd had the same kind of intimacy for the sheep that we have for friends or
neighbours. The sheep had learned to trust their shepherd, but, not a stranger. The sheep
know the shepherd’s voice. When s/he calls the sheep by name, they respond to the call of
their name and come out and the shepherd leads a flock of sheep from the town pen-fold to
roam in an anxiety-free pasture. The shepherd goes ahead to ensure the path is safe.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, as early as 571 BCE, the prophet Ezekiel had predicted the coming
of the Messiah to act as the shepherd of souls [Ezekiel 34.23]. Ezekiel’s God lambasted the
false shepherds, who took advantage of or abandoned their sheep, and concluded “I will
search for my sheep and will seek them out…I will make them lie down” [Ezekiel 34.11-15]. In
Jesus’ time, the Pharisees thought of themselves as the good shepherds. They were supposed
to be the shepherds of Israel to protect and to nourish the people. But Jesus portrayed them
as “thieves and bandits,” who climb into the sheep-fold in a furtive way [John 10.2]. They do
not care about the sheep, but only about their own gain. Today’s churches have thrown up
‘society’ preachers, “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” rogue clergy, who proclaim the ‘prosperity
gospel,’ the abundant life of promised continual wealth and success. Often, this leads to much
wealth for the televangelist, but deception and disappointment for the duped. The warning
that Luke gives in the Acts of the Apostles is “Fierce wolves will come in among you, not
sparing the flock, and from among your own, will arise men speaking twisted things to draw
away the disciples after them [Acts 20.28].
Asa shepherd boy, David was familiar with all this, before Samuel had summoned him to take
up God’s plan for kingship [1Samuel 16.10-13]. Perhaps the mind of the ailing king pressed
the rewind button to carry him back to when he cared for his father Jesse’s flock, thus he
could write Psalm 23.
Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” In David’s failing mind, it was as if the
Lord spoke to him “David, just as a shepherd is so tender loving to his sheep, so I have been to
you, down the years.” Shepherds are good people, kind and gentle greenies. When calling us,
our gentle Shepherd God is no circus whip-trainer. God does not whip us into fear and
obedience. Nor is our God a dog-trainer, coaxing with tit-bits. God knows that dogs may jump
through a hoop for a dog-biscuit. Q. Is this the concept that we have of God, that, if we do
something good, God will give us the equal of a biscuit reward? And, if we do bad things, God
will withhold the biscuit from us? So, we learn to do the right tricks? But, biscuits don’t work
with sheep, nor with us “the sheep of his flock.” We learn from verse 4 “your rod and your staff
comfort me.” The good and kindly shepherd uses a staff to guide the wandering sheep back to
the path by gently hooking a leg; the rod is also a weapon against marauders.
Psalm 23.1 says “The Lord IS (present tense) my shepherd.” In David’s day, sheep were not
raised for eating, but for their wool. Treated as pets for years, sheep became a part of the
family. The shepherd came to know each one’s name, individual traits and characteristics.
Over time, the sheep knew its shepherd voice, and would detach itself from the town flock at
her or his name-call. Our Good Shepherd knows our name and our voice when we call for
help. As the earthly shepherd knows the sheep, guides the sheep, provides green pasture for
the sheep and abides with the sheep, so the Good Shepherd God guides, provides and also
abides with us. God guides: God knows that we, sheep-like, need guidance and direction. God
provides: If we take God’s direction and follow God’s intended plan for us, God will provide all
the help we need. God will not lead us to a situation, without giving us the assurance that, if
we take God at God’s word, God will come through with God’s grace. God abides: until our last
breath is taken “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me, and I shall dwell in the house of the
Lord my whole life long” [verse 6].Mercy is God’s love in action for when we don’t deserve it.
God abides in our rising up and our laying down at night, in our coming in and our going out,
in our labour and in our leisure, in our laughter and in our tears, in our hurts and in our
hopes, in our dreams and in our defeats “our whole life long.”

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In the Jewish village, for safety, all the village ovine animals, not penned overnight in a
country fold, had been corralled together in the town. Over years, there grew a wonderful
relationship, a real intimacy and a unique devotion between the shepherd and the sheep. If
overnighting out on the wild range, the good shepherd dragged together a temporary fold
made from branches to pen the sheep. Then, she or he would lie across the opening as a gate.
In today’s Johannine reading, Good Shepherd Jesus chose to come to planet earth to lay across
the opening of the world-pen saying “I am the gate for the sheep” [John9.7]. Like Jesus,
shepherds were prepared to lay down their lives to deter wild beasts from developing a taste
for lamb. Jesus came to protect those considered the lowest dregs of human society, the
scraggy, fly-blown, unlovable black sheep. Good Shepherd Jesus put such high value on the
unloved lost ones and the disrespected least ones. He showed us that we must not
undervalue anyone.
At nightfall, when counting the flock by name into a town or range pen-fold, if a sheep was
missing, the shepherd would retrace the day’s steps in a far-seeing search to listen for the
plaintive bleat of the lost one. She or he cannot forget the one-in-a-hundred. It was not the
woolliest coat, nor the sheep with the best breeding potential. Every sheep was of equal value
and for which, the good shepherd would brave danger and falls in the pitch blackness. The
shepherd’s life mattered less than a sheep’s life. Where are we here in the Good Shepherd’s
love?
May I give a f’instance? Some years ago, in the New Zealand highlands, a valuable Merino
went missing. There are no predators in that beautiful “Land of the Long White Cloud” with
the exception of the Keas, birds which allegedly have the delightful habit of perching on a
sheep’s back to eat a sheep’s kidney fat while the sheep was still alive! The owner searched
for six years for “Shreck.” When found in a cave, the beast was half-starved with wool
blinding its eyes to prevent him finding food, and from snow burying his mountain meadow.
The sheep was burdened with a massive fleece, which, alone weighed 40 kilos. Remember,
this good shepherd searched for six years for the stray. In the Israel of Jesus’ day, when found,
such a sheep would be on the verge of collapse, frazzled with fear from wolf, hyena or bear.
Heavy, wool-wet and stinking, the lost one had to be carried home to safety on the good
shepherd’s shoulders. The sheep was community property, so, the whole village had waited
up, unsleeping, united for the homecoming. If brought home safe, a shout of joy and gratitude
for the shepherd would echo through the town. The joy felt from finding the one stray was far
more intense than that felt for the ninety-nine who had not wandered. Q. In what ways is this
far-seeing, endlessly searching shepherd a type of Jesus?
Verse 2: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters.” With tender
care and ceaseless vigilance, and boundless benevolence, the Good Shepherd will lead us in
the right places and in the right ways. If we follow the lead of the Shepherd, we will find
sheep-like contentment, serenity, mental calm and innocent carefreeness “in green pastures.”
But, in present Australia, the fire-burned country, where livelihoods are ashes and ruin, and,
now, so many jobs lost because of the virus, we may think ‘Holy God, how are we supposed to
“lie down in green pastures” and sink in “still waters” that are now little more than a
mirage?’ Your locum’s family lost dead a baby brother, a dad, aged 46, and our home,
shattered by a once-in-a-lifetime earthquake in Adelaide in a matter of months in 1954. There
was no home insurance-cover as it was “an act of God?” But our good God causes “still
waters” to bubble out of disaster into a miracle. Adelaide was a small enough town then, that,
when Mr McEntee and another prominent barrister died in the same week, it was
newsworthy sufficient to make an insert on page one. If my father had lived, his son would
surely have been swept into his legal firm, to rise through historic cases, eventually, to hand
down a decision in Canberra favourable for Eddie Mabo or for Daryl Kerrigan in the film “The
Castle.” God had other plans for St Phillip’s. Within minutes of unloading our family’s few
salvaged possessions at our new/derelict house, (in a poor suburb we would never have gone
near before!) the local parish priest, passing by, removed his bike clips, and bagged me for
God. My four siblings all became very successful nurses, pastoral carers like their brother.
The world is still a work in progress, so, at times, we will find ourselves in “the dark valley.”

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But, if we walk with God, “surely goodness and mercy will follow” and we “shall dwell in the
house of the Lord my whole life long.”
Sometimes, driven by restless, unpredictable sheep-ness, head down, greedily following a line
of juicy clover, a sheep may want to detach from the flock, disappear behind an outcrop and
become lost to sight. Translated to people, there is something in my human nature that makes
me push past the sweetly succulent sheep’s heaven that the Good Shepherd has provided for
me, perhaps my present marriage, or loving family, or parish friendship or work situation. I
choose to let life become one constant rush, a frenetic rat-race-flurry, a fast-paced life, that
shrivels up the soul. Psalm 23 tells: the watchful shepherd must hook with a crook (called a
“staff” in verse 4), my sheep’s leg, to “make me lie down in green pastures.” What do I mean? I
am given to trotting on through the lush grassy meadow God has provided for me, in search
of some enticing frippery on the other side. I need to be slowed down. Good Shepherd Jesus
knows that there is something in my silly sheep’s character like busy-ness or self-seeking
pride, something that drives me on endlessly, something like stubborn self-choices, that
causes me to miss what God has planned and set before me as really important in my life, the
freely offered blessings, the real, loving life in the grassy meadow of life. The Good Shepherd
must orchestrate it so that I am “made to lie down in green pastures,” to “restore my soul,” so
that I may come to my sheep-like sense once more. Another psalm writer affirms “Be still and
know that I am God. The Lord of hosts is with us” [Psalm 46.10]. God is with us to restore our
inner soul if we are “still.” Perhaps, as further antidote, the Good Shepherd seeks to allow
those who love me dearly to get close to me, to give me their tender-hearted pastoral care, to
tell me not to be a social solitary, to tell me that teamwork makes dream-work together. Are
we so busy dusting plastic flowers, that we just don’t have time to smell the roses? “He makes
me lie down.”
Verse 3: “He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” A name was
considered powerful. In the early Church, Peter and John continued to teach and to heal
against the wishes of the Christ killers, mainly Sadducees, who denied the resurrection. The
pair refuted the fanatics’ fundamental beliefs and threatened their authority, truly disturbing
these nervous nellies, who demanded “By what power or by what name do you do this?” [Acts
of the Apostles 4.7]. Risen Jesus, the powerful one, was “the (human) stone that the builders
(Sadducees) rejected, which had now become the cornerstone” of the new religion. God goes
out of God’s way to “lead me in right paths,” for we are the very crown of God’s intelligent
creation. The psalmist goes on “He leads me in right paths.” Although we think that we are the
pinnacle of mental brilliance, we have to be led along the very narrow paths of right
relationships and right values because we can still make incredibly dumb choices in life.
Think for a moment of the blind choices being presently made by unlettered know-it-alls for
containing the virus, instead of listening to the better informed, wise and good decisions of
health-care officials. For this, we need help from on high.
Verse 4: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, (or, the alternate translation, “the
valley of the shadow of death,”) “I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they
comfort me.” The ideas come from Job “before I go to the place of no return, to the land of
gloom and deep shadow” [Job 10.21]. If I have chosen to follow the Good Shepherd, if I am
acknowledging God as the Lord of my life and if the good shepherd is leading me, how did I
end up in “the darkest valley,” in the “house of darkness?” What has happened to his “leading
me in right paths for his name’s sake?” This is an ominous turn, when the splendidly generous
Lord has been such a perfect host, providing for my every need and enjoyment. It may be a
situation not of our choosing. What can it be that is so negatively “dark?” Is it loneliness? No,
“you are with me.” Is it fear of deep sorrow in life? No, “you anoint my head with oil.” Is it fear
of breakdown? No, “he makes me lie down in green pastures.” Is it making bad judgements?
No, “he leads me.” Is it fear of death and eternity? No, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, my
whole life through.” It must be that some time in life, there comes bad news. If I follow the
Good Shepherd obediently, the “darkest valley” is not death but “the valley of the shadow of
death.” What I am forced by life, by human weakness to go through, is only shadow, but it may
feel like death. It may feel utterly hopeless, but it is “the shadow of death.” It may be the valley

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of intense frustration with the Corona virus. It may be the valley of excruciating loneliness
from social isolation. It may be the valley of utter depression and failure that I missed the last
jar of sanitizer at Woollies.
The good news is “even though I walk through the darkest valley/ the valley of the shadow of
death,” I am walking “through.” God does not leave us in the midst of the darkness. God is no
passive god, a God who doesn’t care about us. God is among us, God is with us, God is here to
defend and to protect us. God has already made us stronger and the people around us
stronger than we ever imagined because God’s strength is in us. I will emerge on the other
side, so, I must not lose heart. I must be a person of holy tenacity. I will not be governed by
fear; fear of catching the virus or fear of shortages in the post-virus economy. My obstacles
must become opportunities, my stumbling blocks must become stepping stones. I must keep
on “walking through,” believing that if I can dream it, I can do it, not creeping, not crawling,
not cringing, but, with shoulders upright. I will come out in the power and the presence of the
living God. This is a truth that has been tested in the past. This is a truth that has been proven
true. We will not be afraid, because God is with us.
But, what is this line: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley” of trial and discomfort
and struggle, Verse 5: “you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint
my head with oil; and my cup overflows.” What a strange place to be blessed! While I am still in
the valley, while I am still in the midst of the shadow of COVID-19, while I am still in the
middle of the frustration and discomfort of social isolation, the Good Shepherd “prepares a
table before me.” That is, right in my face, no longer in shadow. Let me explain this phrase
again. While still in “the darkest valley,” and far from home, the good shepherd would pen
her/his sheep in a fold of branches, then scout out a new green pasture for tomorrow. The
good shepherd “prepared a table” for the next day. She or he would clear away any thorny
debris, any roughage, anything that may be hurtful to the beloved sheep grazing next day. In
the same way our heavenly Good Shepherd is preparing a blessing against the present crisis,
a change for the better that has our name on it; it has deliverance in it; it has power in it; it
has hope in it; it has encouragement in it, right in our face, and “my enemies,” the virus, the
discomfort, the social isolation…can do nothing to stop the blessing that good God has already
ordained is coming my way. In spite of David’s distressed state, at times, God’s blessings
overflowed. Jeremiah has God cry “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and
unsearchable things you do not know” [Jeremiah 33.3].
But, if the Good Shepherd invites us to the “table, the feast in the presence of my enemies,” it
would be rude not to invite everyone. God seems to invite everyone to a table of peace. God is
in the business of crafting peace, of igniting our full potential for peace as human beings.
Verse 6: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in
the house of the Lord my whole life long.” The psalm of King David affirms the Good News is:
by following in the power and presence of the Good Shepherd, with the Good Shepherd
leading, we are to walk on through “the darkest valley.” The darkest valley must come to an
end; the pain, the problem, the perceived discomfort cannot last forever. Perhaps the words
of the song from Carousel are apposite: “when you walk through a storm, hold your head up
high and don’t be afraid of the storm…Walk on through the wind. Walk on through the rain,
‘though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll
never walk alone.” Tough times never last; tough people do. When we are compelled to go
through tough times, the humble tea-bag can be our model; the hotter the water, the stronger
the tea. When we go through tough times, God brings out the richness and the full strength
that is in our ‘tea-bag.’
The tyranny and the terror of this virus may threaten to strike us down, to shape us, but God
is taking it to mould us more fully as the people that God had always intended we should be, a
people helping people, people helping each other to get through the tough times by caring
and symbolically embracing. How are we connecting socially and interacting with one
another? When we emerge from the virus “darkest valley” the Psalm tells us that we will

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realize that we have always been protected on every side. To experience life in its fullest, at
every step we must ask “WWJD?” “What Would Jesus Do?” What would Jesus have me do?
How can I be more faithful to the Good Shepherd’s goodness? How can I be more faithful to
him? If we bring our lives into compliance with Jesus’ life, he will bless us constantly with
abundance. And abundance is more to do with what is in our hearts than what is in our
hands.