Psalm 52 - The righteous will see

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"To the leader. A Maskil of David, when Doeg the Edomite came to Saul and said to him, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech."
1) Why do you boast, O mighty one,
of mischief done against the godly?
All day long 2) you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
you worker of treachery.
3) You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking the truth.
Selah
4) You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.

5) But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.
Selah
6) The righteous will see, and fear,
and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
7) "See the one who would not take
refuge in God,
but trusted in abundant riches,
and sought refuge in wealth!"
8) But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
9) I will thank you forever,
because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
I will proclaim your name, for it is good.

Psalm 52 (NRSV*)
Proper 11, Sunday between July 17 and July 23, Year C

Evil does not do its work in a vacuum. It needs to attach itself to people in order to have any effect. You might say that evil is a social disease.

"Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly?" Advertising. Of course this "mighty one" will boast, to inflate others' perception of its power. Some who hear will be tempted to join in. Some will flee, others will surrender. Some will be tempted to deal, thinking that wickedness will always win. And some will be scared into inaction, standing idly by, while evil does not shrink from its mission.

There are many things we might label evil. Violence. Cruelty. Injustice. Greed. Hunger and poverty in a world of plenty. Indifference to the suffering of others. We could spend a lot of time and energy just compiling a list.

I don't know that we can ever understand evil, which runs so contrary to light and life and God's desire to cherish all of creation. Yet we are confronted with evil. and the psalm teaches us one key dimension of how evil operates.

"Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue."

Evil cannot live in the light of truth. Evil relies upon falsehoods. Anything on that list of human evil is based on one or more lies.
  • I have no responsibility for my sister and brother, my neighbor, the stranger.
  • There's nothing wrong.
  • It's not really so bad.
  • I can get away with it. No one will see; there is no consequence.
  • Right is wrong and wrong is right.
  • Your life does not matter.
  • God (and good) is not strong enough. They do not matter.
There is an axiom of practical theology that "the devil is a liar." Amen. Evil cannot work without deceit. God is real, God is true. Falsehood comes from some other source.

This psalm teaches one of the most important steps in confronting evil. The righteous will see evil, will recognize it as such, and will fear any cooperation with it. The hope, yes, the hope is that our relationship with the Lord, our knowledge and love of God's law, and our godly obedience will be an immunizing power to keep us safe from sin. Not that evil can never touch us - but that it cannot infect us, convert us, enlist us in its destructive cause.

Have you heard the saying? "A lie travels 'round the world while truth is putting on its shoes." It is important to notice the lies as soon as possible, and not let them travel unopposed. We need to know that there really are people actively plotting destruction. Some choices are not simply between competing opinions, but between good and evil, between two different worlds.

The psalm takes us past the distraction and distress of evil, which God will uproot from the land of the living. "The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer..." This is advice to us, to turn our focus away from evil, to stop feeding the beast. God is the one who executes justice. Whether we are looking at the wicked situation we see today, or towards the dawn of God's eternal, shining kingdom.

Our work is simply to be who we created to be. Let us trust in the steadfast love of God. Let us believe in God's vision of good, of a life that is whole and upright, of a world where justice and peace reign. Then we will be like a green olive tree in the house of God, bearing fruit of living the truth of the Lord.

     I will thank you forever,
     because of what you have done.
     In the presence of the faithful
     I will proclaim your name, for it is good.


Credits:
Photographer unknown, Hitler mit Generälen bei Lagebesprechung. Licensed under (CC BY-SA 3.0 DE).
Photographer unknown, Olive leaves in bloom. Public domain, Pixabay license.
* 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.

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