Lectionary II (Yr C)
Luke 14:1, 7-14 (I)
Luke 14:1, 7-14 (II)
Heb. 13:1-8, 15-16
Lk. 13:10-17 (I)
Lk. 13:10-17 (II)
Isaiah 5:1-7 (I)
Isaiah 5:1-7 (II)
Luke 12:49-56 (I)
Luke 12:49-56 (II)
Heb. 12:1-7 (I)
Heb. 12:1-7 (II)
Gen. 15:1-6 (I)
Gen. 15:1-6 (II)
Psalm 50 (I)
Psalm 50 (II)
Lk 12:32-40 (I)
Lk 12:32-40 (II)
Heb. 11:1ff. (I)
Heb. 11:1ff. (II)
Lk. 12:13-21 (I)
Lk. 12:13-21 (II)
Lk. 11:1-13 (I)
Lk. 11:1-13 (II)
Lk. 11:1-13 (III)
Lk. 10:38-42 (I)
Lk. 10:38-42 (II)
Lk. 10:25-37 (I)
Lk. 10:25-37 (II)
II Kings 5:1-14 (I)
II Kings 5:1-14 (II)
Lk 10:1-12, 17-20
Galatians 6 (I)
Galatians 6 (II)
II Kings 2:1-14
Ps. 16 (I)
Ps. 16 (II)
Gal. 5:1, 13-25
I Ki. 19:1-15a (I)
I Ki. 19:1-15a (II)
Ps. 42-43 (I)
Ps. 42-43 (II)
Gal. 3:23-29 (I)
Gal. 3:23-29 (II)
I Kings 21 (I)
I Kings 21 (II)
Luke 7:36-50 (I)
Luke 7:36-50 (II)
Gal 2:11-21 (I)
Gal 2:11-21 (II)
I Kings 17:8-24
Trinity (June 3)
Prov. 8:22-31 (I)
Prov. 8:22-31 (II)
Romans 5:1-5 (I)
Romans 5:1-5 (II)
John 16: 5-15
Pentecost (May 27)
Gen. 11:1-9 (I)
Gen. 11:1-9 (II)
Acts 2:1-21 (I)
Acts 2:1-21 (II)
John 14:8-17 (II)
Easter VII (May 20)
Acts 16:16-34 (I)
Acts 16:16-34 (II)
John 17:20-26 (I)
John 17:20-26 (II)
Easter VI (May 13)
Rev. 21:10, 22-22:5
Easter V (May 6)
Acts 11; 13; 14
My Own Acrostic Ps. (based on Ps. 145)
Pentecost + 8--July 22, 2007
Bill Long 7/11/07
Psalm 15; Short and Sweet
Here is our Psalm for the week, in the NRSV:
"A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbours;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honour those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved."
Psalm 15 is often referred to as an "entrance liturgy," i.e., a liturgy that was used in ancient Israel when pilgrims to Jerusalem were about to enter into the sanctuary of God. Before such a person entered the sacred precincts, a priest would question the worshipper about his or her faith, emphasizing the duties listed here. Though we don't know if such a liturgy actually existed, we have some hints in other biblical passages of what you might call "moral requirements" in order to be acceptable to God. Take, for example, the familiar passage from Micah 6:
"He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?" (6:8).
Jeremiah 7 also can be similarly interpreted:
"For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever," (7:5-7).
The important point to notice is that there were (and are) what we might call ethical "standards" or "benchmarks" which God requires before people can enter into fellowship with the divine. Though Christians are usually fond of saying that justification by faith gets us this access, this Psalm emphasizes an alternate reality--we enter into God's presence by our commitment to living with the same kind of moral uprightness that characterizes God.
II. The Content of The Moral Life (vv. 2-5a)
Now that we know that entrance to God's temple is conditioned upon a commitment to ethical living, we must ask about the content of this life. Some scholars have pointed to 10 requirements in these verses, as if it is a sort of "advanced decalogue" for the spiritually elite. There are ways you can find 10 commandments here, but I choose to see them as based on the words of v. 2. There is it said that those who enter into God's holy place live blameless lives and speak truth from the heart. The emphasis on "blameless" living is familiar in the Psalms. For example, the anchor verse of the longest Psalm (119) provides:
"Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord," (119:1).
Or, we have the culminatory verse of a Psalm on human longing, which says pretty much the same thing:
"For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly," (84:11).
Blameless living sounds like a pretty tall order, and the rest of the Psalm enumerates many individual things that constitute it. Waht interested me, however, are not what we might call the "usual tasks" of righteous living, but two items in the list that don't seem to be practiced vigorously by us. Let me speak briefly about each.
A. The Psalm says that those who "stand by their oath even to their hurt" (v. 4) will be worthy of entering into God's sanctuary. Commentators remind us how difficult this pasage is to translate, but the gist of it is clear--that righteous people honor their oaths. But the "modern" understanding of contract theory, in law, is that often it is best not to honor your word. That is, twentieth century legal commentators began to recognize that even human contracts, the law's version of a sacred oath, are only promises to do what you say you will do unless something better comes along in the meantime. If something better comes along you are well within your rights to breach the contract, pay the penalty for the breach, and then pursue a more attractive offer. This is called the doctrine of "efficient breach" of contract. No moral weight is therefore placed on breaching a contract; it is just an indication of our economic interests at a particular time. We change our minds. Of course we have to pay for it, but it is a "cost of doing business." The great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., first articulated this idea in his 1897 law review article "The Path of the Law." Modern contract law assumes this understanding of agreement.
You might argue that a sacred oath differs from a contractual arrangement, but the structure of both is the same. And, we act the same towards both today. How many times have we counseled others that when the harms of a relationship outweigh the benefits, they ought to get out of it? Efficient breach.
B. A second area in which 21st century law and life seems to differ from this Psalm is in v. 5: "who do not lend out money at interest." In ancient Israel one was supposed to come to the financial rescue of fellow Israelites not to make money off them but to show one's solidarity as covenant people. Charging interest could easily pervert the cause of justice. But in our life today interest rates are the basic grease that lubricate our economic system. We buy houses and cars with interest rates; we expect to get a certain "rate of return" when we invest in a certificate of deposit; we even shop around for the most advatageous rate. Thus, though we might try to heed the flow of the passage by not lending out money at interest to friends or in a religious context, we really don't live this way in our society.
I bring up these two examples because we simply cannot expect the moral life of the 1st millennium BCE to mirror our understanding of that life perfectly. Economic relations change; societal structures vary. What would be your "substitute" exhortations, however, as it relates to oaths and lending money at interest?
III. Never Be Moved (v. 5b)
What is the bottom line of ethical living? Our Psalm says it succintly and to the point: "those who do these things shall never be moved." Instead of being blown about by every wind of doctrine, to quote the NT, those who try to cultivate blameless living are those who are deeply rooted and established. This passage is reminiscent of another I love:
"Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides for ever," (Ps. 125:1).
It is interesting that when the Apostle Paul finishes his long teaching on the resurrection of Christ and our future resurrection, he concludes with an exhortation that looks like Ps. 15:5,
"Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain," (I Cor. 15:58).
That is all that really needs to be said. The fruit of ethical living is in a firmness, solidity and confidence in our perceptions and our mode of living. In a culture where fear tends to dominate, this is good news indeed.