The Mission of Psalm 23
The Rev. John A.H. Tomoso †
I’d like to focus our attention, this month, on the word MISSION.
I believe that every one of us is on a mission; we are all being “sent” to do something or to go somewhere to do it. During this Lent, what I am drawn to, when thinking at least about my own mission, is Psalm 23. Not only does this rather famous and well-known Psalm capture the religious imagination of many but it also captures their social, cultural and political imaginations.
I submit to you that Psalm 23 has a lot to do with how our community, our society, how each of us is “sent on our way” and being converted in the process!
Have you thought of your mission; of how you are sent to do something? Early in our life, as young children, I believe our parents inculcated in us the idea that we need to do something; to grow into something; to be something; to be “sent on our way.”
All six verses of Psalm 23, I think encapsulate, very well, the process and reality of “being sent.” In verse 1, nothing is lacking for one to move forward in mission; all is provided; there is no “want.” In verse 2, there is peace; all is peaceful, and one is “sent forth” in peace. In verse 3, there is life, and it is righteous because one is guided by God to be sent forth. In verse 4, there is life and no evil can overshadow how the “sending forth” takes place. In verse 5, a table is spread and all are welcome to sit and then to stand and be sent forth. In verse 6, all that is good and merciful follows you, even goes before anyone being sent forth.
God is always near every time we are “sent forth.” God sends us forth during our whole lifetime! To be sent; to be on a mission, is a powerful way to live. Psalm 23 is a powerful prayer with a powerful context.
As a young child, I remember having someone, an adult, to comfort me and to lean on, when needed. Psalm 23, as a “mission prayer,” nurtures the reality that one can lean on God, as one is being sent on his or her way. The idea that God provides and sends us, in mission, with all that is needed, and all that is peaceful and all that is generous, and good and peaceful, while conquering all that is evil, is comforting. In this regard, the particular context of Psalm 23 that can capture the social, cultural and political imaginations of all is the idea, in verse 5, of God “spreading a table.”
This table is large and inclusive and one where even one’s enemies can sit peacefully. It is from this table, that all mission begins.
What if all relational conflicts are solved while all sides are sitting at this table? What if the wars of the world can be handled with shared meals, instead of violent conflicts? What if world leaders are required to sit and talk and drink and eat together until they have sorted things out? What if all cultures and peoples while at this table try to understand each other; seeing that, perhaps, we are all yearning for and wanting of the same hopes and desires and that if we all dance around this same table, we will share the same steps and rhymes of a life that is shared?
Any of us can wonder at how God sets such a table that brings together friends and even strangers and enemies and converts them into reconciled and harmonious relationships; all sent on a mission, even the same mission. I believe that this is what God is doing, even as we’re each sent on a mission.
As Lent ends, I am thinking about a mission of peace and understanding and reconciliation. And I believe that this is the mission that I have been sent to live and grow into. The Theologian Hednri Nouwen, has commented that the mission, the work of all of us, is to convert hostis into hospis, i.e. hostility into hospitality. This work is transformative; it converts one to see and understand things differently. As Lent ends, consider Psalm 23 as the way to understand, to be converted to and live “hospitality.” It is the how you and I are being sent; and we are on a mission!
Rev. John A. Hau’oli Tomoso † is a Social Worker and Episcopal Priest. He is a Priest Associate at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Wailuku and an on-call Chaplain at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Tomoso was graduated from St. Anthony Jr./Sr. High School, the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota (Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Sociology) and Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (Masters of Social Work). In 2008, he retired from the civil service as the Maui County Executive on Aging. In March 2019, Tomoso retired as the Executive Director of the non-profit Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc., after a social work career that spanned 43 years of practice. His wife Susan is a 7th grade Language Arts Teacher at Maui Waena Intermediate School.