Despite the fact that many people think it is overused, we both love Psalm 23.
It was part of our school-days and we also sang it at our wedding many moons ago.
We’ve both preached from it and reflected on it and it has spoken to us time and time again. We thought we knew it well.
And then we came to Kenya where a shepherd is someone who cares for cows as well as sheep and goats. You will frequently see mixed groups of beasts being herded down the road to find pasture with their shepherd guiding them to safety, all very reminiscent of the psalm.
However a recent conversation with a clergy colleague here has reinforced to us again that Sacred Texts are always being interpreted and applied within our cultural and personal frameworks and people find their own meaning and perhaps even answers through so doing. Our friend told us this story.
A few years ago, he was assisting another priest with a parish mission and they were doing door to door visitation to invite people to the Sunday service. On the preceding Friday, they arrived at the house of a man who was carefully caring for his cow and tried to engage him in conversation.
He wasn’t having any of it.
After a while, the priest said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a very good shepherd and that you really love your cow and care for her. Did you know that in the Bible, God is compared to a shepherd?”. He then recited Psalm 23 to the man, invited him to the service and left believing that he would probably never see the man again.
Early on the Sunday morning, the priest was astonished to see the man arriving at the church. He went to greet him and asked him why he had come. The man told him that the day after they had visited him, his perfectly healthy cow had dropped down dead. He remembered the words of the psalm and decided he would come to the service to hear more about the Shepherd who loved people as much as he had loved his cow.
He became a staunch member of the parish.
It’s a strange story isn’t it?