“Yea though I walk through the valley and the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” are the words that begin the fourth verse of Psalm 23 from the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. That entire Psalm (Scripture) is known as the Shepherd’s Psalm. Most people of faith are familiar with this portion of Scripture, and it is the most recited, remembered, and respected text in all of religious literature.
It is apparent that violent death is so near each of us that it feels like death is walking with us and hovering over us, casting a large shadow. That very powerful and profound phrase “shadow of death” describes the atmosphere in which people in urban areas live, like in Overtown Miami where a 16-year old boy and a 10-year old child were randomly killed recently. A metropolitan area, where from south Miami-Dade County around Florida City, to the northern edge of the county, in a city like Miami Gardens, more than four dozen homicides have already occurred in 2015. And, the shadow of death also pervades the atmosphere where police officers work. While all first responders (fire fighters, rescue workers, police, etc) deserve our prayers because of the high risks involved in their chosen profession, police officers are more at risk of danger and death than most other professionals.
I recognize that some people are justifiably cynical about police work, and there are mixed sentiments about the value of the work of the police. I also recognize that occasionally codes and rules of proper procedures and practices are violated by some of those who are sworn to protect and serve all of us. But I’m challenged to find any profession where someone within that profession has not abused their power at some point. Ethical and moral violations are found amongst politicians, presidents, principals, promoters, preachers, pontiffs, and yes, police. But, fortunately, there are also many more honest, hard-working heroes than there are those who violate the public trust. The days of those who still work hard to protect and serve are still here.
To quote former president Al Gore, “Some may think it’s fashionable to proclaim that the age of heroes has passed. That the glory years of towering giants has faded into a mist of myth and fable. Well, if you’re looking for heroes — look around.” Look at your next door neighbor, the woman who you see playing catch with her children on the front lawn. The man who invites you over for a backyard barbeque. The person who sits across from you in the place of worship. For it could well be that these men and women shunned lives of comfort and ease to engage in lives of service for their communities, and even their country. Some, indeed, awake every day, and with their badges donned, put their lives at risk for the rest of the community.
We are encouraged, even though law enforcement officers live daily with the reality of death, and the presence of the “shadow of death,” because the Lord is with them and us. In the sobering but comforting words of Psalm 23, we notice the power of the Shepherd, who can and will overcome evil. We notice the promise of the Shepherd who will overshadow his followers with goodness and mercy. We are also blessed to have the provision of nourishment and shelter from the Shepherd, and the persistent, preeminent presence of the Shepherd. And even though we walk daily in the very shadow of the enemy called death, we have the protection and permanent preservation of the shepherd, and because the Lord is our Shepherd, we have perpetual peace. Amen!
Dr. Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board. He may be contacted at wtrichardson@Bellsouth.net. Website: WTRMinistries.com