It was a good old-fashioned scripture reading contest. Designed to get the men and boys more comfortable in front of the congregation and to get them to read the scriptures with clarity and good diction, the contest was scheduled for a Sunday afternoon. The judges had determined that all contestants should read the twenty-third psalm in order not to give anyone a particular advantage.
By the time the day came around, almost twenty had signed up for the contest, and it promised to be a good one. There were men and boys of all ages from pre-teen to well up in years. Some had a good bit of experience reading scripture and even giving a sermon or two. Others were just getting started. Some were still students in school while a couple had advanced degrees. It was a good mix.
As the competition progressed and each contestant read the psalm, it became apparent that everyone had practiced and taken the affair seriously. The psalm rang out with sharp enunciation and a good rhythm. It was read with fervor and passion, and with varying emphasis as the reader saw fit. Certainly, there were some stumbles and hesitations here and there, but all in all everyone did well.
One brother, however, seemed to hold a clear edge. His reading was flawless, strong, easily heard in the whole room and with decisive intonation. Everyone nodded approvingly when he had finished. Even the judges were seen to smile a little.
Finally, the last contestant. He was an older brother, but not the oldest of the group. As he approached the podium, many began to shuffle their feet and look at their watches, thinking the contest was over. But with his first few words a hush came over the place. With power, depth, warmth - rising and falling with the flow of the psalm, he read without effort. Nobody spoke. Some came to tears. Others found it hard to breathe. The judges pronounced him the winner.
“What was the difference in the two?” someone asked.
“The first knew the psalm. The second knew the Shepherd.”