1Hear my just cause, O Lord; give heed to my cry; Listen to my prayer, that comes from no lying lips.
2Let judgement for me come forth from your presence; and let your eyes discern the right.
3Though you search my heart, and visit me in the night-time, though you try me by fire, you will find no wickedness in me;
4My mouth does not transgress, like the mouth of others, for I have kept the word of your lips
5My steps have held firm in the way of your commands: And my feet have not stumbled from hour paths.
6I call upon you, O God, for you will surely answer: incline your ear to me, and hear my words.
7Show me the wonders of your steadfast love, O saviour of those who come to you for refuge: who by your right hand deliver them from those who rise up against them.
8Keep me as he apple of your eye: Hide me under the shadow of your wings
9From the onslaught of the wicked: From the enemies that encircle me to take my life.
10They have closed their hearts to pity and their mouths speak proud things.
11They advance upon me, they surround me on every side watching how they may bring me to the ground,
12Like a lion that is greedy for it prey, like a lion’s whelp lurking in hidden places.
13Arise, O Lord, stand in their way and cast them down; deliver me from the wicked by your sword.
14Slay them by your hand, O Lord, slay them, so that they perish from the earth: destroy them from among the living.
15But as for your cherished ones, let their bellies be filled and let their children be satisfied: let them pass on their wealth to their offspring.
16And I also shall see your face because my cause is just: When I awake and see you as you are, I shall be satisfied.
Text © A Prayer Book for Australia, alt, Used with permission.
The set reading for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary time, also known as the 9th after Pentecost or Trinity 9, only includes verses 1-7 and the last (15 or 16 depending on your version of the psalm), but I have chosen to include the whole psalm as it speaks loudly against injustice and abuse.
Jesus warned us not to think we will be exempt from persecution. We’ve heard and read much about persecutions over the centuries, be they Romans attacking Christians in the first century, Christians attacking non-believers during the Crusades, Hitler attacking the Jews in the lead up to and during the second world war, and we expect to hear about those and many other movements in a troubled world. However, when the persecutions come from those much closer to home they can be unexpected and devastating.
How do we respond when someone in our own church community takes offence because of something we might have said or done, and wants us to take no further part in that community? How do we respond when members of our own family go on the attack because we might not have lived up to their expectations? How do we respond when those in authoritative positions, be that in work places, churches, social groups or wherever, refuse to have open discussions about problems, and try to address them?
Leonard Sweet, in his book The Bad Habits of Jesus talks about duologues, where what comes out of mouths “is a projectile, laser guided to its target by unabashed political and moral correctitude aimed to shut down, not open up, conversations.”
When we are confronted by duologues we might well resort to Psalm 17 to find some respite from the disrespectful onslaughts we have to endure. It doesn’t matter where we are, whether the group is secular, religious or neither, we can hardly avoid cases in our lives. If I started listing examples from my own life I’d still be going at Christmas. So what do we do?
The Psalmist’s plea is to a God with whom he – given the era I presume it was a ‘he’ – has a personal and effective relationship. Clearly the writer believed he had a good relationship in which he did the right thing by God as much as he was able, because he invites God to search him even at times when he is most vulnerable. “My cause is just and comes from lips that don’t lie, so please come and tell us what is right”. Do we have such confidence in our talking to God? Are we willing to expose the innermost secrets where we might not be as truthful to our fellow humans as we know we must be with a God who knows those secrets before we admit to them?
When it comes to claims like “My mouth does not transgress, like the mouth of others” I can hear many people suggesting otherwise, especially those whom the psalmist considers “others.” However, it is not for us to condemn, only for us to ask God to act in a way which brings about reconciliation with the divine will, and if we think those “others” have transgressed we have a responsibility to ask God to intervene.
There is confidence, here, the God will respond, and there will be action to bring an end to the persecution. How many times have we heard comments such as “God doesn’t answer prayers”, with the additional rider from atheists “because God doesn’t exist”? Do we give in to such comments? I hope not.
When we feel that we are being persecuted, especially by those closest to us, we need to ask God to protect us as He would the apple of His eye, and we need to express the feelings of being surrounded by those have no pity, and want us to stop drawing attention to their failings. If we have confidence in our relationship with God we can surely ask for divine intervention, though we, in civilised countries which respect the sanctity of life, might ask for the “others” to have a “Road to Damascus” conversion instead of being killed.
If we have confidence that our cause is just then we will have no problem seeing God face to face, and feeling a sense of satisfaction. Is my cause just? I’ll let God be the judge of that, but when I see abuse, torture, murder, irresponsible behaviour in a Covid-19 setting, and others, I believe I will be with the vast majority which thinks those actions to be unacceptable to our Creator.