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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Today’s Reading | Psalm 143

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
     give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness;
     answer me in your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgment with your servant,
     for no one living is righteous before you.

For the enemy has pursued me,
crushing my life to the ground,
making me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.

I remember the days of old,
I think about all your deeds,
I meditate on the works of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah

Answer me quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

Save me, O Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
Let your good spirit lead me
on a level path.

For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life.
In your righteousness bring me out of trouble.
In your steadfast love cut off my enemies,
and destroy all my adversaries,
for I am your servant. (NRSV)


Reflection

I have a little problem with psalms like this one, the “save me from the bad people and beat them up, O Lord” psalms. It’s not that the psalmist is looking to the Lord for help in times of trouble—the preceding psalm, 142, is kind of wonderful in that way in how it says “Lord I am utterly alone, please help me.” But 143, while it starts that way, it then goes a little too far, with the line “In your steadfast love cut off all my enemies and destroy all my adversaries for I am your servant.”

Really? “In thy steadfast love, destroy my adversaries”? That’s not that far from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Then did he raise on high the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, saying, ‘Bless this, O Lord, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.’”

It’s a little juvenile, and probably pretty representative of its attributed author, David, who could be a little juvenile and full of himself. But at the core of this psalm there is a powerful truth here that can get lost in all the “me-vs.-them” stuff.

“No one living is righteous before you.” “My heart within me is appalled.” “Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down into the pit.” This writer has screwed up, he knows it, and knows how deeply he needs God’s grace to recover, to transform his state.

Transformation, that’s the thing. It’s easy to see that this writer wants an utter transformation in his circumstances. It’s also apparent that he knows full well that this transformation begins with a renewal of his relationship with God. God transforms in ways we are powerless to achieve, and God’s favor to us is not a result of our goodness—it’s not a transaction, God is not bound to hold up a bargain. It’s a gift, and it’s up to us to acknowledge it and be grateful.


Prayer

Lord, I know that no one is righteous but you. Let me always remember that, and not turn self-righteousness on others. Transform my heart, so that I might work to transform the world. Amen.


Written by Rob Koon,
Coordinator of Fine Arts


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