Revised Common Lectionary--2007
For May-Aug, 2007 click here
Easter IV (Apr. 29)
Acts 13:15-16, 26ff.
Psalm 23 (I)
Psalm 23 (II)
Rev. 7:9-17 (I)
Rev. 7:9-17 (II)
Easter III (Apr. 22)
VT Killing Meditation
Acts 9:1-19a (I)
Acts 9:1-19a (II)
Easter II (Apr. 15)
Acts 5:12-32 (I)
Acts 5:12-32 (II)
Easter (Apr. 8)
Ps. 118:1-2, 14-24
John 20:1-18 (I)
John 20:1-18 (II)
Lent VI (Apr. 1)
Psalm 22 (I)
Psalm 22 (II)
Lent V (Mar. 25)
Psalm 126 (I)
Psalm 126 (II)
John 12:1-8 (I)
John 12:1-8 (II)
Lent IV (Mar. 18)
Luke 15:11-32 (I)
Luke 15:11-32 (II)
II Cor. 5:16-21
Lent III (Mar. 11)
I Cor 10:1-13
Lent II (Mar. 4)
Gen. 15:1-12, 17-18
Luke 13:31-35 (I)
Luke 13:31-35 (II)
Lent I (Feb. 25)
Deut 26: 1-11
Luke 4:1-13 (I)
Luke 4:1-13 (II)
Rom 10: 5-13
Epiphany VII (2/18)
Gen. 45:1-15 (I)
Gen. 45:1-15 (II)
I Cor 15:35-38,42ff.
Epiphany VI(Feb 11)
Luke 6:17-26 I
Luke 6:17-26 II
I Cor 15:12-20
Epiphany V (Feb 4)
Is. 6 (The Senses I)
Is. 6 (The Senses II)
Luke 5:1-11 (II)
I Cor 15:1-11
I Cor 15:1-11 (II)
Epiphany IV (Jan 28)
Jer. 1:4-10 (II)
Luke 4:22-30 (I)
Luke 4:22-30 (II)
I Cor 13 (I)
Epiphany III(Jan 21)
I Cor 12:12-31
Epiphany II (Jan 14)
John 2:1-11 (I)
John 2:1-11 (II)
I Cor. 12:1-11 (I)
I Cor. 12:1-11 (II)
Baptism (Jan 7)
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Luke 3 (II)
Lent IV--March 18, 2007
Bill Long 3/6/07
Psalm 32; Nothing Like Forgiveness
The Psalm for today, in the NRSV, is as follows:
"Of David. A Maskil.
1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6 Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
7 You are a hiding-place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart."
This memorable Psalm explores the psychology of forgiveness. In so doing the author not only declares the blessed or happy state of those who know the cleansing power of forgiveness, but he sensitively describes the physical and mental torment for those oppressed by inner demons. The Psalm is powerful for today because we, like our predecessors of thousands of years ago, still bear heavy internal loads of guilt and remorse--for what we have done or thought we have done. We need to recover the sense, as I exposited from the passage yesterday, that a new start is possible; that one need not be tethered to the losses, anger, bitterness and defeat of past days. Our Psalm is living proof that a person can "get beyond" the things that tormented him.
My central insight today, not mentioned in many commentators, is that Ps. 32 and Ps. 51 (David's great Psalm of confession) come out of the same psychological milieu. That is, I argue below that the raw anguish of Ps. 51 psychologically precedes and helps explain the relief, gratitude and power of Ps. 32. The thing that helped me connect the Psalms is the language of sin in 32:1-2 and 51:1-4. The same three Hebrew words for sin are used in both places over and over again. It is almost as if there is being set up here a sort of biblical antiphonal or responsive reading; it would be an interesting exercise to try to construct a responsive reading from these two Psalms. One of them would stress the debilitating power of awareness of one's bad acts; the other emphasizes the surprising and breathtaking wonder of a fresh beginning. In the words below I will: (1) outline Ps. 32; (2) understand its first few verses (3) speak of the psychology of forgiveness (vv. 3-5); and (4) conclude with some remarks about the "response" of the Psalmist to knowledge of forgiveness.
I. A Simple Outline
In the case of Ps. 32, knowing the outline really helps the Psalm unfold. It consists of five parts, as follows:
A. Vv. 1-2; The "Executive Summary" of the Psalm--the blessedness of those who are forgiven.
B. Vv. 3-5; The Twofold Movement Leading to Forgiveness--inner "heaviness" and "external" confession.
C. Vv. 6-7; The Resultant Admonition to the Faithful.
D. Vv. 8-9; A Further Divine Word, with language taken from the Wisdom tradition.
E. Vv. 10-11; The Summative Conclusion--reiterating the words of vv. 1-2 but with an exhortation to continue in a life of gladness and rejoicing.
II. Understanding the "Summary" (vv. 1-2)
Sometimes it is nice just to have the major point made in a few verses. That is what we have here. The author uses three different images of forgiveness--(a) forgiving "rebellion" (pesha, translated trangression, in v. 1); (b) "covering" sin (hattah, in v. 1, translated "sin" is the word for faulty action); (c) not counting one's "crookedness" (awon, translated as "iniquity" in v. 2). There is no suggestion here that the Psalmist is trying to analyze his particular fault into three unrelated categories of human action; rather he piles up traditional words for "sin" in order to show a kind of completeness in forgiveness, the full panoply of "covering" of our fault. It is like putting the clothes through the wash cycle three times; every trace of dirt will be eradicated.
Important to note briefly is a point on Hebrew language which you can use even if your Hebrew is rusty or non-existent. The English of vv. 1-2, in the NRSV, consists of 29 words; the Hebrew has 15. That is, it takes the Hebrew about half the words as in our language to express the thought. This "compression" of thought allows for more deep rumination on each word or cluster of words. For example, "Blessed are those whose transgression is forgiven" in v. 1 is three Hebrew words. The notion of "blessed are they" is expressed in one word of four letters...ashre. So powerful is this explosive little word that it became the cornerstone of Jesus' most famous teaching--his Sermon on the Mount ("blessed are you/those..."). Thus, this first point stresses the compressed nature of the language. Compressed language invites slow reading and deep meditation. Do that as you commit these words to memory.
III. The Psychology of Silence and Confession (vv. 3-5)
We understand the Psalmist's confession best here if we hear Ps. 51 in the background. In that wrenching Psalm, which assumes the context of David's sin with Bathsheba, the Psalmist pours out the filthy matter of his life, almost like sludge gushing forth from a discharge pipe. In Ps. 32 the language is slightly different but the ultimate reality is the same. Here, his sin lies upon him like an oppressive weight, like the penalty peine forte et dure (the French words for placing increasing weights on a condemned person's chest until he was crushed to death). Instead of rocks crushing his chest, however, it was the divine hand that was "heavy upon me" (v. 4). Note the flow of silence and confession in these verses. At first he doesn't declare his sin, and it has bodily effects. I think this reality is psychologically true for most people. We don't immediately deal with the things that are wrong between us and others; us and God. We let things fester; we increase the weights; we let thoughts occupy and dominate our mind. And contradictions can then multiply. The Psalmist gives one example. Even though he is "silent," (v. 3), he "groans" all day (v. 3).
Like the prodigal who "comes to himself" after being in a far country and living in penury, the Psalmist says "Then I acknowledged my win to you." The adversative is not strong. Indeed, there is no word in the Hebrew for "then." The text just says, "my sins I confessed to you"--2 words. Simple as that. It isn't a long and drawn out process. The Psalmist realizes finally that he has to act, and so he acts with dispatch and focus. "My sins I confessed" or, to try to capture the brevity of the Hebrew, "Sins confessed, sin not hid." Just like that.
IV. The Psalmist's Response
Half the Psalm remains, though I have made my major points. This one only needs to be mentioned. There is a twofold result to forgiveness. First, the Psalmist admonishes others to live faithfully (vv. 7-8); then he receives additional divine guidance (vv. 8-9. Most scholars read the "I will instruct you" language of vv. 8-9 as an oracle of God spoken to the Psalmist perhaps by the priest). Once your own forgiveness is assured, you have all you need to exhort others to keep faith. Those who preach and teach need not have everything "together," even if that were possible. We who do these things, however, need to have a sense that forgiveness is real for us because, as the Psalmist says, our exhortation and teaching to others flows from our hearts that have been forgiven. We have known the pain of holding in our guilt. We have recognized our dependence on God. We have confessed. We have been forgiven. Only then do we really have something to say.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing the Psalmist now has to say to people is in v. 6--"at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them." In the Scriptures the waters are sometimes portrayed as friendly forces but usually they threaten.
"Save me, O God,/ for the waters have come up to my neck./ I sink in deep mire,/ where there is no foothold;/ I have come into deep waters,/ and the flood sweeps over me" (Ps. 69:1-3).
To have the ability to speak to others words of grace, and to receive more divine insight, is almost too good to be true. There may be no place like home, for Dorothy Gale of Kansas, but there certainly is nothing like forgiveness.