Reading: Psalms 48-50
Click on the link for the reading to read the Psalms for this week. As we read, let us not do so in haste. Take time to read each Psalm at least three times: once to understand the content, once as a poem or song to feel the meaning, and once as a prayer to appropriate the Psalm into your life. There will often be a hymn attached at the bottom of the page that helps bring meaning to one of the Psalms for the week.
PSALM 48: The City of the Great King
The Lord is the great king, who is sovereign over the world and all the nations in it; Zion, the city and the hill on which it stands, is the great king’s capital and site of his temple-palace. That is the theology on which Psalm 48 is based. The song speaks of Jerusalem under the sacred name of Zion and portrays Israel’s small and unimposing capital as the city of God. Its purpose was to lead the congregation to see what only the eyes of faith could perceive.
Elie Wiesel wrote “The symbol of survival, Jerusalem: the city which miraculously transforms man into pilgrim; no one can enter it and go away unchanged.” Why is this true? Because for believers, Jerusalem becomes a temporal symbol for the reality of God’s rule in all times and places. That may seem strange to Christians, but we have a temporal touch-point also. For Christians, a particular event in time, the crucifixion of Jesus, at a particular spot (Golgotha), becomes the central event of history. What appeared to be an ordinary crucifixion of a common criminal is the focal point of all space and time. The psalmists knew, the apostles knew, and we still know that we live in time and space as part of a world that is fragile and troubled, terrified and terrifying. Yet, in the midst of it all, we join the psalmist in proclaiming a new reality; God rules the world! What’s more, we claim to live by that reality above all others. For the psalmist, the vision of Jerusalem, the city of God, reshaped time and space. For Christians, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth have reshaped the world, reshaped our time and space into a new reality. Thus, amid the same old realities of trouble and turmoil, we are changed and are able to discern by the eye of faith the dimensions of a new creation.
PSALM 49: God Will Redeem My Life
In Mark 8:36-37, Jesus asked his disciples what profit there is in gaining the whole world if one forfeits one’s life since there is nothing anyone can give in exchange for one’s life. His subject was losing and saving one’s life. That is also the subject of psalm 49; it forms the background of Jesus’ teaching. The problem addressed is wealth and the way people orient their lives to its acquisition and possession. The wrong is not in wealth itself but in the way people allow riches to disorient their living in relation to God. Wealth takes the place that God alone should and can have.
We have all heard what vv. 10-11, 17 suggest: You can’t take it with you. But it is hard for us to believe this because we live in a society that teaches us to define ourselves in terms of our incomes, our bank accounts, our stock portfolios, and our possessions. Our society has moved beyond the principle of supply and demand to the concept of creation of demand, and we are very good at it. It is very difficult in our culture to avoid the conclusion that life does consist in the abundance of possessions. For that reason, Walter Brueggemann concludes, “In the consumer capitalism of our society, this poem is important.” Life is not a prize to be earned or another possession to be bought. Rather, it is a gift to be received (Mark 8:36-3). The good news of Psalm 49 and the Gospel is that God wills that we live, so much so that Christians profess that God has paid the price by sending Jesus Christ “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Those who enter the reign of God will live, not by greed, but by gratitude. They will see in the death and resurrection of Christ the ultimate embodiment of the affirmation of Psalms 49:15 that the power of God is greater than the power of death. True wealth is the wisdom that understands that God is the only giver and ultimate guarantor of life.
PSALM 50: Offer to God a Sacrifice of Thanksgiving
Neither a song of praise nor a prayer, Psalm 50 is often labeled a prophetic exhortation. Erhard S. Gerstenberger labels it a liturgical sermon and links its origin to the post-exilic synagogue, where instruction was a regular feature of the liturgy. The function of the accusatory rhetoric is to call the people away from self-centeredness to a proper relationship with God.
Like all good sermons, Psalm 50 challenges its hearers to make a decision. The basis for the decision is, like Jesus’ preaching, grounded in the reality of God’s claim on the world (vv. 1-6). The same call to a decision is implicit in Jesus’ words “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21).
There is no song this week.
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