The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Word for Meditation

Sometimes the psalms can seem a bit strident, filled with calls for the wrath of God to inflict vengeance on the oppressor. As one who has never really been oppressed in life, I suppose I shouldn't judge those who have suffered greatly at the hands of others. But reading such sentiments can make it difficult to think of some of the psalms as Christian prayers, even though they form the basis of the Church's daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours.

As we make our way through the psalms the differences between the Christian and Jewish worldviews become readily apparent. For example, reading the psalms will bring two very different concepts of justice into stark contrast. As C. S. Lewis points out in his Reflections on the Psalms (p. 10 and 12),
"The ancient Jews, like ourselves, think of God's judgment in terms of an earthly court of justice. The difference is that the Christian pictures the case to be tried as a criminal case with himself in the dock; the Jew pictures it as a civil case with himself as the plaintiff...Christians cry to God for mercy instead of justice; they [the psalmists] cry for justice instead of injustice."
Once the modern reader of the psalms understands this difference, he can more easily come to terms with the tone of many of the psalms. In today's Office of Readings, for example, we find a man oppressed by his enemies and betrayed by one who was once his friend [Psalm 55]:
"How close was the friendship between us, we walked together in harmony in the house of God."
Seeking justice, not from man but from God, he cries out in hope:
"I will cry to God and the Lord will save me." 
And the expected result?
"God will hear and humble, O God, will bring them down to the pit of death."
This is not the Christian cry for mercy, but the ancient cry for justice. With the proclamation of the Good News, the fulfillment of the Law by Jesus Christ, we come to a whole new understanding of justice and of our relationship with our enemies:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you..." [Mt 5:43-44]
And yet, even amidst the curses and cries for vengeance, there are wonderful things to be learned from the psalms. For instance, in the psalm we have been discussing [Psalm 55], we are left with some solid food for meditation:
"Entrust your cares to the Lord and He will support you. He will never allow the just man to stumble....O Lord, I will trust in you."
Good words for Christian and Jew and all God's people.

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