Psalm 73 reads like a commentary on today’s world.
In the United States, we are seeing the demise of the middle class and a significant rise in poverty. We are watching the rich get immensely richer while the poor get significantly poorer.
Across the globe, across the ages this has been a terrible truth for most of the people on the planet.
The problem is not simply that some people are rich and others are poor.
The problem is the arrogance, self-righteousness and indifference prosperity often creates within the wealthy. The problem is the deep inequities that diminish and devalue the poor, people who are made in God’s own image and likeness.
Our psalmist saw this first hand.
I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not plagued like other people.
Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes swell out with fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth.
The oppression of the rich over the poor is as old as humankind itself.
But what is even more troubling, baffling is the applause and approval these oligarchs often receive from the very people who are crushed and burdened by their practices and policies.
The people turn and praise them and find no fault in them…
What is that about?
How is it that poor people continue to trust rich people?
How is it that the oppressed sometimes make excuses for their oppressor? That the vulnerable actually believe power brokers will do what is right and best?
The psalmist laments the injustices of his society.
His heart and his theology tell him that wickedness will be punished and righteousness will be rewarded.
But “No, Not Necessarily” is his actual experience.
All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
How do we make sense of such unbalance?
Maybe it doesn’t make sense. Not in any framework we can imagine, anyway.
When I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end.
Maybe we need to enlarge our imagination to a cosmic scale and consider our lives within the eternal, eschatological frame of reference.
Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes; on awaking you despise their phantoms.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus told a parable about a rich man and a man named Lazarus who begged for a handout while he sat homeless outside the rich man’s gate. The cosmic, divine justice in the story is either comforting or chilling – depending on where we see ourselves in the story.
When Jesus taught the truths of the upside-down, inside-out beatitudes, poverty was clearly at the front of his mind.
- “Blessed are the poor…” Luke’s gospel says.
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Matthew softens just a bit.
The point is: truth isn’t what we see and know with our human eyes; the truth of God’s eternal right-making often can only be seen with the eyes of faith.
The eyes of faith
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant…
- It is faith that allows us to wait and watch for God without bitterness and envy.
- It is faith that allows us to grasp some inkling of God’s work of Shalom within the universe.
- It is faith that motivates us to work on behalf of God’s justice.
Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nothing on earth that I desire other than you!
My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Indeed, those who are far from you will perish; you put an end to those who are false to you.
But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge – to tell of all your works.
Scripture comes to us from the bottom.
The Hebrew texts and the Christian writings all came from the hands, the hearts and the experiences of the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable.
When Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official state religion of Rome, Scripture began to be read through the lens of privilege and began to be interpreted for the advantage of those in power.
One recent movement, Liberation Theology, challenges this perspective of privilege with a clear, sharp prophetic word: “God holds a preferential option for the poor.”
And in this divine work of right-making, God is always about “bringing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly.”
This is the message people of faith must trust and live and preach and work to enact within all our various societies.
This is the message, that truly God is good …
…. good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.
The work of God is to judge, redeem, transform and set the world aright.
The work of God’s people everywhere is to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. To be good, and do good in the way and manner of the God of all creation: acting with goodness, fairness and justice to all our neighbors.