Week of Proper 14, Year Two[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 (morning) // 119:121-144 (evening)
Some of the verses from this morning’s Psalms are optional, and it’s not hard to see why. The optional portion of Psalm 109 contains the uncensored ill-wishes of the Psalmist toward another person: “Set a wicked man against him, and let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his appeal be in vain. Let his days be few, and let another take his office . . . Let the creditor seize everything he has; let strangers plunder his gains.” The Psalmist wants this person to face a wicked accuser, to be condemned by the justice system, to die before his time, and to have his position and his goods taken by others.
What’s worse, though, is that the Psalmist’s anger doesn’t stop with this person. The Psalmist wants to visit tragedy on this person’s dependents as well: “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife become a widow. Let his children be waifs and beggars . . . driven from the ruins of their homes . . . Let there be no one to show him kindness, and none to pity his fatherless children.” The most severe punishment that the Psalmist can imagine is that, in their vulnerability, these descendants be unable to carry on the family line. In the end, the Psalmist prays for the earth to wipe out all record of this family’s name, but for God to constantly remember their sins.
What crime is so grievous as to warrant all this cruelty, to rouse all this anger? Does the Psalmist just have some kind of personal vendetta against this person? No. The Psalmist wishes all of these curses to fall on this person “Because he did not remember to show mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy and sought to kill the brokenhearted.”
Many theological traditions resist the Psalmist’s vision of a God who refuses to forget and actively punishes sins. Yet this Psalmist’s anger is a clue to what matters most to God. The Psalmist has the keenest sense that what God cares about most is the mercy that we extend to others, and especially to those who are poor. Although our own prayers don’t usually call on God to punish others, may our prayers never lose touch with what, if anything, should enrage us: This world’s failure to show mercy, and the ways that it targets the poor, needy, and heartbroken.
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as Priest Associate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with adult formation and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.