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Rule with Righteousness

Rule with Righteousness

Monday, April 23, 2012 — Week of 3 Easter

George, Soldier and Martyr, c. 304; Toyohiko Kagawa, Prophetic Witness in Japan, 1960

Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 961)

Psalms 25 (morning) // 9, 15 (evening)

Exodus 18:13-27

1 Peter 5:1-14

Matthew (1:1-17); 3:1-6

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

There are several psalms like Psalm 9, appointed for this evening, that seem to express my yearnings in an election year and during times of political conflict. At the core of those psalms is something kin to Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God. I want, I yearn for a world that is ruled by the values of God, not the oppression of the powerful.

Psalm 9 opens in a voice of anticipatory praise, thanking God for the day “when my enemies are driven back.” (v. 4) For now, the psalmist lives under threat. “Have pity on me, O God; see the misery I suffer from those who hate me…” (v. 13) The psalm closes with his cry for help: “Rise up, O God, let not the ungodly have the upper hand; let them be judged before you. Put fear upon them, O God; let the ungodly know they are but mortal.” (v. 19-20)

Throughout the Psalm the writer professes trust that God will prevail, and the enemies will be defeated. He invokes the qualities of God’s reign. “You rule the world with righteousness and judge the peoples with equity. (v. 8) “You are known, O God, by your acts of justice; the wicked are trapped in the works of their own hands.” (v. 16) “For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever.” (v. 18)

Although there may be a military threat implied in Psalm 9, the more dominant complaint is of economic oppression. That complaint rings with emotion for me, for that is my predominant complaint in this day and time. We live in a time when we suffer from a world wide economic depression triggered by the dishonesty and greed of powerful and wealthy financiers. The wealthy do not want to pay for the economic ruin they have created, but seem to be using the crisis to cut the social programs that are most critical to the poor and needy.

I find I join the Psalmist, calling out to God. “You are known, O God, by your acts of justice; the wicked are trapped in the works of their own hands. …Rise up, O God; let not the ungodly have the upper hand.” (v. 16a, 19a)

Many of the psalms and the prophets declare God’s “righteousness”. “You rule the world with righteousness and judge the people with equity.” I read some preachers who think of righteousness only in ethical terms, a righteous person is one who follows a path of moral behavior. Sometimes the word is reduced to proper religious belief and sexual restraint. But in the scripture, “righteous” and “righteousness” is a much bigger word. Usually it is an economic and political word.

Alan Richardson’s study in “A Theological Word Book of the Bible” (1962) shows that the dominant use of the term “righteousness” in the Hebrew scripture (tsedeq and tsedaqah) “involves the establishment of equal rights for all, and to this extent ‘justice’ is a sound equivalent. …The original Heb. words, therefore, include the idea of God’s vindication of the helpless… (L)ater developments of the world stress the aspect of generosity and benevolence to the helpless.” (p. 203)

A world of righteousness is a world where the poor and needy enjoy security — food, shelter, and opportunity to thrive; access to health care, education and transportation. We have a secular way of expressing these hopes: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But for too many in our culture today, the pursuit of happiness is a pursuit of excess, an ethic of entitlement and greed that fails to recognize our responsibility toward our neighbors, especially the needy and poor. The prophets and the psalmists speak of the ungodly as those who pervert equity and who eschew righteousness — economic and social justice.

I join the psalmist today in declaring, “You are known, O God, by your acts of justice; the wicked are trapped in the works of their own hands… For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever. Rise up, O God; let not the ungodly have the upper hand.” (v. 16, 18, 19a)

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