Psalm 73 - I was envious of the arrogant

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A Psalm of Asaph. 1) Truly God is good to the upright,
to those who are pure in heart.
2) But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped.
3) For I was envious of the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4) For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
5) They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.
6) Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them like a garment.
7) Their eyes swell out with fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8) They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9) They set their mouths against heaven,
and their tongues range over the earth.

10) Therefore the people turn and praise them,
and find no fault in them.
11) And they say, "How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?"
12) Such are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13) All in vain I have kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14) For all day long I have been plagued,
and am punished every morning.

15) If I had said, "I will talk on in this way,"
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
16) But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17) until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.
18) Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19) How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20) They are like a dream when one awakes;
on awaking you despise their phantoms.

21) When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22) I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast toward you.
23) Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24) You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honor.
25) Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
26) My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27) Indeed, those who are far from you will perish;
you put an end to those who are false to you.
28) But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
to tell of all your works.

Psalm 73 (NRSV*)
Not included in the Revised Common Lectionary.

"My feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked."

You know he is telling the truth, for the psalm goes on for 15 verses telling exactly what there is to envy. This is the voice of experience, who sees how good the wealthy have it. How the slick, the aggressive, the rude, the proud, the finger-pointers - in short, the wicked - always seem to make out ok. No, better than ok - they prosper, they seem to be trouble-free.

The list is painful, for it is my list. It galls me to see them do so well, their riches growing, the way they are fawned over, no matter what kind of trash they talk. These "beautiful people" have no pain, no trouble, they wear their pride as casually as a tailored suit or pearls. Damn right I want that! Their good fortune plagues me. Thinking about it wears me out.

And yet... and yet... I went into the sanctuary of God, and came to me senses. I saw that those who set their mouths against heaven and their actions against others will come to an end.

In this prayer, the wicked are less a problem for their wickedness, but for the way I am provoked by them. Yet it is my fault, I am stupid and ignorant in letting my soul become embittered. When I am smoldering over the wicked's success, I am neglecting both God and the neighbors who are innocent and in need. I dishonor the Lord and my kin, by letting this wickedness consume me.

Take me by the hand, Lord, and lead me out of this madness. Deal with them as you will, but for me it is good only to be near you. I deceive myself by envy, when my heart's desire is you, the upright. I have let my heart be defiled. So cleanse me, heal me, for you are the strength of my heart. Call me back to you, that I may tell all of your glory. I have again made the Lord God my refuge - Hallelujah!

Credits:
Dan Foy, Cunto: Green with Envy?. 26 September 2006, photograph of graffiti. Used under (CC BY 2.0).
* 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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