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An example of HOLY Scripture – Psalm 68

August 1, 2014

Psalm 68 Feast of St Alphonsus de Ligouri (1st August 2014)

Did you know that the psalm we recite today is one of the three most quoted psalms used in the New Testament? And Psalm 68 also echoes quotes found in other Old Testament books.

Psalm 68 is a poem, more correctly called a lament – I mentioned this literary form yesterday. It is a heart-felt cry to God, a cry of distress. It may be something unfamiliar for us today to pray in a way that seems so loud, but laments reflect the full range of human emotions. Sometimes we really do feel abandoned, all on our own, with nowhere to turn for solace. A lament captures that emotion in its rawest form. However, there is always an overriding message of trust and hope in God, that God will come to the rescue and is always to be praised. In today’s psalm this contrast between anguish and hope is particularly marked, with the psalmist alternating between himself and God in a way that divides the 36 verses of the whole psalm into five sections:

Verses 1 “Save ME!” alternates with
verse 5 “GOD know how foolish I have been;

Verses 13 “For MY part, I pray to you” and
and verse 19 “YOU God know all the insults I endure”

and verse 30 “I will praise the name of God”

Do you see that? How, in order, the psalm changes focus, like a game of tennis,
Me, God, Me, God, Me

The interesting thing to try and work out is, who it was who wrote the psalm? Was it King David? He is reputed to have written a lot of the psalms, but a close look at the words suggests this is not the case: in verse 9 the psalmist says that zeal for God’s house has devoured him, and at verse 4 he asks how he can be expected to restore some that he has never stolen. This sounds like someone has been blamed for a scandal involving the financing of the building of the Temple. Well, actually it was not David who built the Temple, it was his son Samuel. And more significantly, we know that nowhere in the historical books of the Old Testament was King David involved in such a scandal. You might think that the history books might airbrush out such a scandal if it involved Israel’s greatest King, but actually the Books of Samuel and the two books of Kings don’t hesitate to include the mistakes and scandals that involved King David.

On the evidence I tend towards thinking that Psalm 68 is the work of the Prophet we have been hearing from all this week, Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was writing about 100 years after King David, and I think there are similarities between Psalm 68 and the prophesies of Jeremiah, Indeed, the similarities of message are probably why this psalm is used today after the reading from Jeremiah.

And there is also a very direct reference in Psalm 68 to something we know happened to Jeremiah. Do you remember I mentioned earlier this week how Jeremiah got into trouble with King Jehoiakim, who literally cut up and burned the original copy of the Book of Jeremiah because he was so angry with the message?

Well, this was not the first time Jeremiah had got clashed with the powers that be. He was an outspoken, true prophet of God, who would stick his neck out and so get himself into trouble. Another way of saying this is ‘to get into deep water’. In fact this expression comes from today’s psalm. The second verse of the psalm is:

“I am sinking in the deepest swamp, there is no foothold; I have stepped into deep water and the waves are washing over me.”

This is actually something that happened to Jeremiah. He had been speaking out against government warmongers who wanted to pick a fight with a neighbouring country, and the ministers decided it was time for their arch-critic Jeremiah to die. So they had him lowered into an underground water store that was full of mud. Jeremiah was only saved after a court official heard about what was happening and urgently let the King know that Jeremiah was in danger. The King had him hauled out.

The reason Psalm 68 is so popular in the New Testament is because it is a prophetic psalm. Every word of it foreshadows the treatment that would be suffered by our Lord during His lifetime, five hundred years later. The early Church spotted those links immediately.

Like the psalmist, Jesus also showed a tremendous zeal for his Father’s house, in the cleansing of the Temple, an echo of verse 9 of the psalm. And that certainly brought trouble for Jesus.

And Jesus quoted Psalm 68 during the Last Supper, the day before He was crucified, when our Lord talks about the hostile world in which we live, and how the world hates Him for no reasons, a direct echo of today’s words: “More numerous than the hairs on my head are those who hate me without cause.”

And you will recognise, from verse 21 what was to happen at the Crucifixion. The psalm prophesies correctly:

“They gave me poison to eat, when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink”.

Today’s psalm is a marvellous example of Holy Scripture. Holy Scripture. These psalms are not just poems that have been beautifully written to reflect a variety of human emotions; all the words of Scripture are inspired by God to have a multitude of layers, tremendously deep meaning that would not have necessarily been apparent even to the actual writers at the time, who were inspired to put into writing words that contain eternal truths that have echoed down the centuries to us today.

The sacred writings of the Bible are a reminder to us that our faith is deeply mysterious and often beyond our frail human understanding. We can only scratch the surface; but one day we pray and hope that we will witness that Truth contained in the scriptures in its fullness, when we come into the presence of God.

So inspired by scripture, let us now move into the Real Presence and receive our Lord, not in word, but in sacrament…….

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