I’m familiar with the 36th for its inner passage about the goodness of God. It came up in today’s 2020 pilgrimage of lectio divina through the Psalter. Maybe I’m a few days behind the “foot of the arrogant,” but it seems more than apt.
We covered this psalm earlier in the series on the Reconciliation Lectionary. Those who prepared the rite selected the middle verses, and left alone a lament that seems quite timely given the unrest across the US:
Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in their hearts;
there is no fear of God
before their eyes.
For they flatter themselves in their own eyes
that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
In an era of ever-present social media captured on everyone’s mobile phones, hiding iniquity is a lot more difficult. Needless to say if a Good Samaritan had caught the murder of Ahmaud Arbery on her or his phone, there wouldn’t have been several weeks’ delay between death rendered and warrants served.
Still, it is human nature for someone to wish, desperately, that their sin will remain covered. The psalmist recognizes the slippery slope to foolish evil:
The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit;
they have ceased to act wisely and do good.
They plot mischief while on their beds;
they are set on a way that is not good;
they do not reject evil.
“A way that is not good,” a more direct understatement of this week could not be uttered.
The Psalmist turns a brief eye away from the wicked to contrast with God. This is what the Church finds so comforting, but when placed side by side with grave evil, it has a different sort of power:
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgements are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
The final two verses in the NRSV translation hammer it home:
Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,
or the hand of the wicked drive me away.
There the evildoers lie prostrate;
they are thrust down, unable to rise.
I have long attempted to live as a man of peace. I aspire to pacifism, but I recognize the urge to compete, to vanquish, and I feel emotions stir when others are mistreated. It is easy, too much so, to nod and smile at the biting sarcasm in cartoons this week with Mr Chauvin kneeling on the liberty goddess’ neck, or the juxtaposition of his head with that of Mr Floyd. I remain unconvinced that a soul-for-soul vengeance will achieve racial truce, let along equality or peaceful coexistence.
I also remain a skeptic that more than a fraction of the violence and looting is perpetrated by protesters. It seems all too convenient that another set of wicked people want to mask themselves, then flatter themselves that they will not be found out.
Hopefully civic leaders are in dialogue with protesters during the daylight hours. They have failed on multiple fronts in reacting to the death of a man of color in police custody: delaying legal charges, gassing peaceful protesters, the arrest of a news crew and the abuse and intimidation of the press, and especially the militarization of police forces.
Some US bishops have their statement. Some of it is quite good. Some of it falters. Perhaps the best of it:
While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful non-violent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged.
And a weak moment follows:
Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life.
It’s not a feeling, bishops. It’s called knowledge. People know their voices are not being heard. Much like the bishops may and must feel about their own pronouncements. They earnestly desire that their people listen to them. Our Catholic tradition suggests they are our shepherds and they have something of value to offer us. I believe they do.
I am sure it must pain a shepherd to see churches emptied, faith go into a hibernation, and alternate values take hold. Think of people of color experiencing–not just feeling–the same. Communities are being emptied of young men who should be working, starting and providing for families, and learning the ways of service, involvement, and citizenship instead of languishing in jails in far greater numbers than their white peers. Think of people seeing once-thriving neighborhoods to into an economic and cultural sleep. Think of the values of drug dealers, bad cops, corporate plunder, and indifferent whites on committee seats overriding virtue in so many neighborhoods.
Wanting to see the evildoers thrust down, lying prostrate, unable to rise? It sounds almost godly to me.