The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 25)
The Peace of Christ: a Brief Meditation on Palm 23:1-4
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose;
near restful waters he leads me. He revives my soul. (vv. 1-2)
I have read that when a flock of sheep is left alone for a long time it will wander aimlessly, until all the sheep are entirely exhausted. They cannot stop and rest, because they feel helpless against the predator. In fact, when night comes, a shepherd may have to make the sheep rest, gently pulling the legs from under them, so they will lay down.
The sheep cannot rest. Sound familiar? Left alone, they will always be on the move, exhausted by real and imagined dangers. Sound familiar?
Is this why Jesus, the Shepherd of our souls, commands us to rest, charges us to be at peace ( Matt. 7:25ff; 11:28ff; John 14:1ff) —the shepherd gently pulling our legs from under us, spiritually speaking?
Physical exhaustion is sometimes inevitable. A good night's sleep, a few days off can restore the body. But spiritual exhaustion cannot be banished so easily. Spiritual strength cannot be restored by physical rest alone. Spiritual exhaustion, showing itself in anxiety, impatience with others, escape into entertainment, addictions, boredom, lust, over-ambition and trying to work one's way into favor with God—this exhaustion gives way only to the gift of God's peace. It is a gift received by faith. “He revives my soul” only by faith.
Without faith we cannot truly rest. The spiritual logic of this truth is beautifully expressed in Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God”. It is in knowing that God alone is God (and so I am not God!) that I find spiritual stillness and quietness, as I entrust my life entirely to God.
He guides me along the right path, for the sake of his name.
Though I should walk in the valley of the shadow of death,
no evil will I fear, for you are with me.
Your rod and your staff will give me comfort. (vv. 3-4)
The Shepherd's rod is his weapon against the predator. With his staff he guides the sheep safely along the right pathway. The rod is his judgment; the staff is his promise. Which means that his Cross is at once his rod and his staff. So it is that in many artistic representations of his resurrection, Christ comes victorious from the tomb, carrying a cross in his right hand.
This is why St. Paul speaks of the “peace of God that passes all understanding”. For it is a peace that does not abandon us even when circumstances are bad, even when we must travel through the “valley of the shadow of death”.
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