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As a nation, we have been talking a lot lately about justice--who gets it, who doesn't, what it means, and what it is. Or that's what we ought to be talking about. Between professional media, social media, churches, civil rights organizations and yes, even the President, we've heard lots of talking about justice. But how do we know justice? How do we listen for it?

Join me over the fold for a short meditation.

For Christians who attend churches where the Revised Common Lectionary is used, we heard a very difficult Psalm this morning--Psalm 52. Here is is, from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer:

Psalm 52, Page 657 BCP
Quid gloriaris?

1
    You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *
    against the godly all day long?

2
    You plot ruin;
    your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *
    O worker of deception.

3
    You love evil more than good *
    and lying more than speaking the truth.

4
    You love all words that hurt, *
    O you deceitful tongue.

5
    Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *
    topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
    and root you out of the land of the living!

6
    The righteous shall see and tremble, *
    and they shall laugh at him, saying,

7
    "This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
    but trusted in great wealth
    and relied upon wickedness."

8
    But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *
    I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

9
    I will give you thanks for what you have done *
    and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly.

Ouch! This sounds awfully self-righteous, and angry. Rabbi Segal of the Schecter Institute calls his commentary on this Psalm "Pernicious Speech". You'll get a sense of the character of the historical context of this Psalm if you read the Rabbi's brief analysis of it, but he points out the following:
The psalm would seem to deal with the familiar bifurcation of society into good and evil. However, as opposed to almost all other psalms on this subject, there is no reflection on any suffering of the righteous, nor is their fate a matter of concern. This alerts the reader to search for a different motivation for the poem and a different emphasis.
.....

As often in Psalms, the last verse provides sudden enlightenment, clarifying its purpose. The verbs are in the imperfect, indicating that the speaker does praise-and-proclaim and/or will do so: in fact, both seem to be accomplished at once, for the verse takes the reader back to the beginning of the poem with the realization that the psalm itself is the speaker’s praise and proclamation.

His use of words as his chosen reaction, in turn, sensitizes one to the nature of the misdeeds of the character described. The "mighty one" boasts of his evil, which is described in the opening section almost exclusively in terms of speech. The reaction of the righteous is also a statement.

The poet invites us into a world of words. Clearly the attitude of the "mighty one" is lambasted (he trusts in his wealth, not in God), but the primary reaction is elicited by his boasting and his slander, that is, his words. One wonders whether there is an implication here in the eyes of the speaker that the good person not only has to act properly, but that he must speak out as well. (Emphasis mine.)

I like the Rabbi's analysis (more at the link above) because this happens to be one of my favorite psalms and he treats it gently and with not a little love for it himself. I love this Psalm not because it appears vicious and self-righteous, but because it is an unusual text and has perhaps has the best "denouement" of any of the Psalms. I appreciate it for its literary value which is as far as I am concerned is as good a reason to adore a Sacred text as any other. But I digress.

It was jarring, given what has happened in a Florida courtroom recently, to hear this in church this morning. "How do people hear this Psalm?", I wondered to myself. "How am I hearing it?", I asked myself.

For me, the Psalmist is very clear at the end that he is not "better than" his oppressor, but rather doing something his oppressor is not: having trust in the justice and mercy of his creator. Not just sometimes, but as the Rabbi points out, all the time. Again, Rabbi Segal:

The olive tree bears fruit but is not deciduous—its leaves do not fall. It is not a large tree, but it is incredibly hardy, resistant to drought, fire, and disease. Its roots are particularly robust (and can re-grow a tree even if the trunk is cut off), and the tree can live for hundreds of years.
In light of our conversation about justice regarding what happened in Florida, we must be like olive trees if we want to hear, see, and do justice. We may be small in the face of injustice, but we are incredibly hardy. We may have setbacks, but we continue to grow.

After some reflection, I suppose I can say that what I hear in Psalm 52 today is not the tongues sharpened like razors, but rather the rustling leaves of the olive tree of justice.

Can you hear it?

NOTE: I will be late in getting to the comments this evening. Love and blessings and peace to you all.

Originally posted to Anglican Kossacks on Sun Jul 21, 2013 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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