Psalm 69 is the longest and most complex of the laments. As in all the psalms (as in all of life), there is juxtaposition of complaint and praise, of pain and confidence. This Both/And experience of crucifixion and resurrection reminds us that faith endures and sustains because of the eschatological hope for God’s promised redemption.
More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause…
The images of this psalm are vivid as they describe the flood of overwhelming persecution. In the understanding of the psalmist, the tortures are unjustified and unjust. He remains faithful in the midst of the faithlessness of his tormentors and argues that his own troubles have come to him because of his trust in God.
It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that shame has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children.
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
Even though this shameful treatment overwhelms the poet, what truly drives his life is his consuming passion for Yahweh.
You may recognize this phrase: zeal for your house has consumed me. The Gospel of John used it to describe the passion Jesus had for his mission within Israel and for the world. Like Matthew, Mark and Luke, John told the story of Jesus’ driving the money changers from the Temple. But unlike the synoptic writers, John’s Jesus performed this bold, prophetic act at the very beginning of his ministry rather at the end. As an introduction to his ministry, it functions as a origin summary of his consuming passion for God.
A consuming passion that will – upon the cross – consume him.
Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me…
Draw near to me, redeem me,
set me free because of my enemies.
When the prayer turns (as the laments almost always do), the psalmist contrasts the unfaithfulness of humans with the steadfastness of the LORD. He even confesses his own faults, knowing all too well the ambiguity of the human condition. This is why the poet puts his faith squarely in divine faithfulness, steadfast love and mercy.
The plea calls God to action based on God’s own promises: answer me, draw near to me, redeem me, set me free. People of faith wait in faith and live in hope. This is what faith is. This is what hope does. Faith and Hope are eschatological, counting on God’s ultimate redemption.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
You may recognize this phrase as well. When the Gospel of Matthew told the passion story of Jesus, he told it within the framework of Psalm 69. Peppered throughout 69 are numerous phrases that allow Christians to see within the life of the psalmist the life and death of Jesus.
Isolation. Estrangement. Animosity. This is life.
Not that an ancient poet was able to see into the future and predict details of Jesus’ life, but rather that Jesus lived out the full range of human experience: all the mortal cycles of pain and hope, sorrow and joy, death and resurrection.
Let their table be a trap for them,
a snare for their allies.
Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and make their loins tremble continually.
To their credit, the psalmists’ cries for justice are just that: appeals to Divine Justice. There is no hint of human vengeance or retribution; these passionate people of faith express their faith freely but then trust in the faithfulness of God to make right what has been wronged.
As the psalmist seeks justice, tit-for-tat sounds “just” to him. Repay what they have done to me. Give them back what they gave me. It’s a karmic understanding of justice. A human way of making sense.
But who knows how Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer makes right the wrongs of the universe?
It is mystery.
Within the Christian understanding, we acknowledge this mystery while at the same time we put our faith in the cross. We believe God acted within the life-death-resurrection of Jesus the Christ in order to make right the wrongs of the universe. To accomplish ultimate justice for all.
Justice and Rightness have been accomplished. AND Justice and Righteousness will be finally, completely fulfilled when Creator brings all things together in the eschatological Shalom.
Justice is a Both/And, an Already-and-Not-Yet Mystery.
Therefore we sing…
Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
And so within this Already and Not Yet reality, we wait. People of faith, who wait in faith and who live in hope. This is what faith is. This is what hope does.