Amongst my favorite psalms is Psalm 23. It contains the well-known phrase about the cup runneth over, the meaning of which is hotly debated amongst scholars but which finds a welcome and untroubled home in my own heart. It is the ultimate assurance that our faith in God is warranted and rewarded, that all healing is a result of our trust in God.
The Psalm reads:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
This is a delightful passage that attests to a loving and bountiful God. When I fear that God is judging me, when I suspect that I’m gonig to be forsaken for some better-behaved Christian, it is this psalm to which I turn. In it, God assures us of his infinite love and mercy, given to all of us in equal measure.
For me, this message is summed up in the image of the cup runneth over. Meaning it reminds us of Jesus’ comment about faith in God, rendered in the Gospel of Matthew.
Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
The cup that runneth over is not only full – it is over-full. He who drinks from this cup need not worry in any way about being nurtured for he is blessed with excess, with abundance. The metaphor is clear. If we “seek . . . first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” than we shall not want in any way. Our trust in God – as absolute and uncompromised as we can make it – is all that we need attend to.
The imagery of Psalm 23 is very much that of the lamb in the care of his shepherd, a tried and true image of Jesus. We need not account for our own welfare; we need only place our faith in the one who knows what we need and has all the power to attend to it. When we do that, we shall not want. We shall partake of a cup that runs over with a healing salve. This is not just a physical comfort but a spiritual one as well.
I find this the most challenging aspect of identifying as a follower of Jesus – the absolute uncondtional giving over of my life to him. It is a radical trust, a giant leap of faith. How can one so long accustomed to caring for himself, for trying to direct all outcomes, suddenly become as a child, as simple and docile and trusting as a little lamb? Yet we are called to do just that – even unto our fear of death.
Thus, the psalm is both a model for Christian action – presaging the clarity of Jesus. We are called to undo, to surrender, to give over. Heaven is not an accomplishment but a state recognized when we let go of everything that blocks our awareness of it. We are led, says the psalmist. Accept that and enjoy the bounty that follows.