Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tenebrae psalms/6 - Psalm 72: The grace of salvation


Today's psalm, Psalm 72, is generally interpreted as an attempt to answer the age-old problem of why the good so often suffer, and why those who do evil flourish.

The temptations of the world

Yet in the context of Maundy Thursday it takes on another level of meaning, and can first and foremost be seen as another prayer of the Garden.  It deals with the struggle of a man who sees evildoers flourishing, and is accordingly tempted to desert, rather than subject himself to redemptive suffering:

"But my feet were almost moved; my steps had well near slipped.
Because I had a zeal on occasion of the wicked, seeing the prosperity of sinners...
They have set their mouth against heaven: and their tongue has passed through the earth...Behold these are sinners; and yet, abounding in the world they have obtained riches..."

The moment of temptation passes, as the speaker moves beyond mere human knowledge, to that inner sanctum of God, where God directs the heart and mind:

"I studied that I might know this thing, it is a labour in my sight:
Until I go into the sanctuary of God, and understand concerning their last ends...For my heart has been inflamed, and my reins have been changed...
You have held me by my right hand; and by your will you have conducted me, and with your glory you have received me."

Thirty pieces of silver

The answer to the problem of why Christ had to suffer and endure the Cross, and why we too must embrace it, is not fully given in this psalm, but it does point out that those thirty pieces of silver are not redeemable in hell:

"But indeed for deceits you have put it to them: when they were lifted up you have cast them down.
How are they brought to desolation? They have suddenly ceased to be: they have perished by reason of their iniquity.
As the dream of them that awake, O Lord; so in your city you shall bring their image to nothing."

Could Judas have yet repented?

It is a teaching of our faith that repentance is always possible, short of death.  Yet there are some people whose crimes are so extreme that their minds are so hardened as to fail to do so.  In the Old Testament we are told that God hardened Pharoah's mind; in the New we have the terrible fate of Judas set before us.  And no I don't subscribe to the modern - and modernist - view that Judas may have made it to heaven, or that hell may be empty; it runs counter to centuries of teaching and tradition!

We must hope and pray then, for the grace of repentance and final endurance that only God can grant, as the early monastic writer Pachomius comments:

"If someone speaks like this: "If ever someone is deceived or snatched away in one of these abysses, is he already lost and has he no longer repentance," I will tell him that a person who has repentance and a true understanding regarding the faith and God's commandments, with a zeal for this, even if he comes close to falling through negligence, yet the Lord will not let him be lost altogether. As it is written, "My feet were on the point of stumbling."

He shows him his grace through the scourge of a sickness or a grief or the shame of his offense that becoming conscious of his negligence he may walk in the middle of the narrow path until he arrives and may not wander a single foot because the path is four cubits wide.

He who wanders off is like Judas, who after receiving benevolence from the Lord and seeing great signs—even the resurrection of the dead— having the purse, was not aware of grace. Because of this he was completely lost through love of money and betrayal.

But the good, although as people with free will they may somehow have neglected what is fitting, are still "refined through fire like silver" casting away rust. This why blessed David says, "I, in the abundance of your mercy, will enter your house." If he says this, how much more we wretches!"

Psalm 72

Quam bonus Israël Deus, his qui recto sunt corde!
Mei autem pene moti sunt pedes, pene effusi sunt gressus mei:
quia zelavi super iniquos, pacem peccatorum videns.
Quia non est respectus morti eorum, et firmamentum in plaga eorum.
In labore hominum non sunt, et cum hominibus non flagellabuntur.
Ideo tenuit eos superbia; operti sunt iniquitate et impietate sua.
Prodiit quasi ex adipe iniquitas eorum; transierunt in affectum cordis.
Cogitaverunt et locuti sunt nequitiam; iniquitatem in excelso locuti sunt.
Posuerunt in cælum os suum, et lingua eorum transivit in terra.
Ideo convertetur populus meus hic, et dies pleni invenientur in eis.
Et dixerunt : Quomodo scit Deus, et si est scientia in excelso?
Ecce ipsi peccatores, et abundantes in sæculoobtinuerunt divitias.
Et dixi : Ergo sine causa justificavi cor meum, et lavi inter innocentes manus meas,
et fui flagellatus tota die, et castigatio mea in matutinis.
Si dicebam : Narrabo sic; ecce nationem filiorum tuorum reprobavi.
Existimabam ut cognoscerem hoc; labor est ante me:
donec intrem in sanctuarium Dei, et intelligam in novissimis eorum.
Verumtamen propter dolos posuisti eis; dejecisti eos dum allevarentur.
Quomodo facti sunt in desolationem? subito defecerunt : perierunt propter iniquitatem suam.
Velut somnium surgentium, Domine, in civitate tua imaginem ipsorum ad nihilum rediges.
Quia inflammatum est cor meum, et renes mei commutati sunt; et ego ad nihilum redactus sum, et nescivi:
ut jumentum factus sum apud te, et ego semper tecum.
Tenuisti manum dexteram meam, et in voluntate tua deduxisti me, et cum gloria suscepisti me.
Quid enim mihi est in cælo? et a te quid volui super terram?
Defecit caro mea et cor meum; Deus cordis mei, et pars mea, Deus in æternum.
Quia ecce qui elongant se a te peribunt; perdidisti omnes qui fornicantur abs te.
Mihi autem adhærere Deo bonum est; ponere in Domino Deo spem meam :
ut annuntiem omnes prædicationes tuas in portis filiæ Sion.

And the English:

How good is God to Israel, to them that are of a right heart!
But my feet were almost moved; my steps had well near slipped.
Because I had a zeal on occasion of the wicked, seeing the prosperity of sinners.
For there is no regard to their death, nor is there strength in their stripes.
They are not in the labour of men: neither shall they be scourged like other men.
Therefore pride has held them fast: they are covered with their iniquity and their wickedness.
Their iniquity has come forth, as it were from fatness: they have passed into the affection of the heart. They have thought and spoken wickedness: they have spoken iniquity on high.
They have set their mouth against heaven: and their tongue has passed through the earth. Therefore will my people return here and full days shall be found in them.
And they said: How does God know? And is there knowledge in the most High?
Behold these are sinners; and yet, abounding in the world they have obtained riches.
And I said: Then have I in vain justified my heart, and washed my hands among the innocent. And I have been scourged all the day; and my chastisement has been in the mornings.
If I said: I will speak thus; behold I should condemn the generation of your children.
I studied that I might know this thing, it is a labour in my sight:
Until I go into the sanctuary of God, and understand concerning their last ends.
But indeed for deceits you have put it to them: when they were lifted up you have cast them down.
How are they brought to desolation? They have suddenly ceased to be: they have perished by reason of their iniquity.
As the dream of them that awake, O Lord; so in your city you shall bring their image to nothing.
For my heart has been inflamed, and my reins have been changed:
And I am brought to nothing, and I knew not.
I have become as a beast before you: and I am always with you.
You have held me by my right hand; and by your will you have conducted me, and with your glory you have received me.
For what have I in heaven? And besides you what do I desire upon earth?
For you my flesh and my heart has fainted away: you are the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion for ever.
For behold they that go far from you shall perish: you have destroyed all them that are disloyal to you.
But it is good for me to adhere to my God, to put my hope in the Lord God: That I may declare all your praises, in the gates of the daughter of Sion

And for the next part in the series, go here.



Tenebrae of Holy Thursday

Nocturn I: Psalms 68, 69, 70
Nocturn II: Psalms 71, 72, 73
Nocturn III: Psalms 74, 75, 76
Lauds: 50, 89, 35, [Ex 15], 146

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