Psalm 50 - Gather to me my faithful ones
A Psalm of Asaph.
1) The mighty one, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2) Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
3) Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
4) He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5) "Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!"
6) The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge. Selah
7) “Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
8) Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9) I will not accept a bull from your house,
or goats from your folds.
10) For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
11) I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
12) "If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
13) Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
14) Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High.
15) Call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."
16) But to the wicked God says:
"What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
17) For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
18) You make friends with a thief when you see one,
and you keep company with adulterers.
19) "You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
20) You sit and speak against your kin;
you slander your own mother’s child.
21) These things you have done and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one just like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
22) "Mark this, then, you who forget God,
or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
23) Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
to those who go the right way
I will show the salvation of God."
Last Sunday after Epiphany (Transfiguration), Year B, verses 1-6
Proper 5, Sunday between June 5 and June 11, Year A, verses 7-15
Proper 14, Sunday between August 7 and August 13, Year C, verses 1-8, 22-23
The mighty one, God the Lord,... calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people. "Gather to me my faithful ones..."
While heaven and earth are mobilized, the call is not to everyone, but only to God's faithful ones, the ones "who made a covenant with me by sacrifice."
There is a special relationship here. Like every other people, they have God as their creator. But these also have a covenant, made with the Living God in the blood of sacrifice. God cut them a deal. Literally, for covenants are "cut," sealed by blood sacrifice.
In the Ancient Near East, covenants were treaties, usually between a stronger and a weaker ruler, in which there were mutual promises. In the Hebrew Bible as a whole, you might see several covenants, with Noah, with Abraham, and with the people in the Law given at Sinai and in the following chapters of Torah.
Yet God has seen a problem in this covenant, a relationship breakdown.
In the Hebrew Bible, and in Judaism since Biblical times, there has been a movement towards a greater emphasis on what you might call the ethical torah. That is to see and interpret the commands of torah in ways which emphasize the social aspects of justice and care for others. You may see this clearly in the famous Talmudic story attributed to Rabbi Hillel. When asked to teach the whole of Torah standing on one foot, he replied "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary - now go and study it!"
In this psalm, God tells the people that they have missed the point of covenant. It is not about the bulls and the blood. It is about the faithful relationship between God and humanity, and between one and another. If you offer sacrifices, but consort with criminals, your sacrifice is worthless - or worse! If you lie, slander, and plot evil - that ends in destruction. If you live in wickedness, reciting the law and going through the motions is no help.
No, the acceptable sacrifice is one of thanksgiving. The vow which is owed is not nominal obedience - but true obedience, to live in humility and grow in righteousness.
The psalm is a call to examine your own life in this covenant. Am I meeting my full obligations to the One who is Holy? This Lord seeks to lead me in the ways of righteousness. This Lord's love is everlasting, worthy to be praised and to be shared.
"Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God."
Il Baciccio (Giovanni Battista Gaulli), The Thanksgiving of Noah, oil on canvas, c. 1700, High Museum of Art. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.