Snacking on the Word: Psalm 69:10a

One of those great Lenten threads resurfaces in the Psalm at Mass today. We first heard it from the disciples’ lips on the third Sunday of Lent (John 2:17), and it appears again in the Lectionary for Wednesday of Holy Week:

… zeal for your house consumes me

It’s a favorite of those who might advocate an angry Christianity: Jesus was anti-business in a violent way, so I can (choose from the multiples) (a) be opposed to the excesses of capitalism, (b) show anger to my … I mean Jesus’ opponents, (c)  pray mean words and not feel guilty, (d) all of the above.

I recall reading a commentary somewhere this Lent recommending we don’t read John 2:17 as a justification for anger. When we look at Psalm 69 as a whole, it’s not an angry piece. It’s a lament. The psalmist exhausts twenty-one verses before suggesting six verses of various punishments for those who have insulted God’s servant, and by extension, God, too.

The zeal is not a zeal then that acts in aggression (however justified) against the faithless. The zeal is what has landed God’s faithful servant in the whole mess to begin with.

The point of Psalm 69 is not that Jesus endorses our human emotional excesses if placed with good intentions. Read the whole psalm, and not just the snacky bit the disciples quote. It’s one of the longer psalms, and it contains a wide range of passions set to use not against one’s enemies, but in prayer to God. Psalm 22 is the song for Palm Sunday and Psalm 31 draws attention on Good Friday. If the Psalter had lacked either of them, I’m sure Psalm 69 would have been the third choice for the suffering and Passion of Christ.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Snacking on the Word: Psalm 69:10a

  1. Liam says:

    You may have read a comment from me somewhere about the homily one of our priests gave last month about the cleansing of the Temple passage. He noted that it does not describe Jesus as angry, only zealous. He noted that it does not say he used the whip of cords on any person, and that if he used it on anything, it could easily have been used to move the animals in a prodding way that they would have recognized as a direction. He noted that the passage has been misused for too many years as a cover for unholy rage in the guise of holy anger, and that he apologized for having preached in the past on this passage as a defense of holy anger. Et cet.

    It was a remarkable homily. I’ve never witnessed a preacher apologize for past preaching. (And, more remarkably, this wasn’t an apology for having hurt or offended anyone, but for misuse of the Gospel in a way it is commonly misused, nor was it an egoistic apology or gimmick.) How refreshing to hear the Word broken open in a way that frees you to receive it afresh in that way.

    Happy Spy Wednesday.

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