Lectionary readings for today:
Morning Psalms: 34; 146
First Reading Jeremiah 7:21-34
Second Reading Romans 4:13-25
Gospel John 7:37-52
Evening Psalms: 25; 91
MORNING PSALM 34
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD,
and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the LORD, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Which of you desires life,
and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the LORD is against evildoers,
to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones;
not one of them will be broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
I hate to admit that this psalm irritates me. I know, of course, that it is a classic; verse eight (“O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are
those who take refuge in him”) is sure to make it into the psalmists’ “greatest hits” collection, and verse twenty is interpreted in John’s gospel
as a prophetic utterance about the death of Jesus. Still, something about the overall tone of the psalm rubs me the wrong way.
The psalmist begins by rejoicing – “I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” But I begin to get irritated when the psalmist goes on to draw general conclusions based upon this experience . . . “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them . . . those who fear him have no want . . . those who seek the LORD lack no good thing . . . When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.” These general conclusions seem out of touch with reality. What about those who seek the LORD and lack many good things? What about the righteous who cry out to God but are not rescued? They can also come across as self-serving at best (the LORD delivered me because I fear him, because I am righteous), and at worst, implicitly judgmental (if the LORD didn’t deliver you, you must not fear him, you must not be righteous, it’s your own fault).
But the more I reflect on my annoyance at this psalm, the more I am led to think that I am the one with the problem. When people share wonderful
experiences of deliverance by God, it is natural that they should rejoice with exuberant and exaggerated enthusiasm. My cynical dismissal of such joy is hypocritical; I am tempted to become self-righteously proud of myself for seeing through “self-serving” expressions of joy. Which is worse? Getting carried away in expressing one’s joy over God’s deliverance? Or becoming so cynical that I cannot join others in their rejoicing?
God, help me to rejoice with those who rejoice.