Psalm 142 - My persecutors are too strong for me
A Maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A Prayer.
1) With my voice I cry to the Lord;
with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.
2) I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
3) When my spirit is faint,
you know my way.
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
4) Look on my right hand and see—
there is no one who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for me.
5) I cry to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
6) Give heed to my cry,
for I am brought very low.
Save me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me.
7) Bring me out of prison,
so that I may give thanks to your name.
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me.
Not included in the Revised Common Lectionary.
"Save me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me."
Persecution is a terrible thing to encounter. The dictionary defines persecution as "hostility and ill-treatment, persistent annoyance or harassment," especially because of a circumstance (race, sex, religion, disability, conscience) that cannot readily be changed. I was just living my life, and walked into their trap.
The experience of being persecuted goes beyond whatever punishments are inflicted.
In persecution, the target is isolated. They are selected, singled out, and experience not simply the effects of the things done to them (prosecution, physical harm, harassment and ridicule, etc.), but the "ideal" persecution is one where the victim feels that hey are without help, without recourse, that they cannot change their circumstances and that no one else will stand up for them. "There is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me."
In persecution, we suffer from malign attention. We are singled-out and isolated, abused and traumatized, made an object of scorn and shame. And there is a lack of attention. People fear to come near. We get the side eye and are viewed with suspicion, because we are suspect or for fear the persecution is contagious. "I am brought very low."
The psalm paints a bleak picture. There is no refuge for me, no one cares.
There is One we can turn to. "I cry to you, O Lord..."
The specifics of our cry may not be so important. But the turn to God is crucial. No longer is the suffering in silence. In the psalm we give voice to our experience. Our prayer speaks to God, to ourselves, and to anyone else who overhears it. Prayer is itself action. Even silent prayer begins to change us as the emotions, intentions, and words take shape in our spirit and consciousness.
In this prayer, take note of what happens. In verse 4, I have no refuge. In verse 5, in calling upon the Lord, there is a refuge, and a powerful one. The trap in verse 3 is the prelude to the prison break anticipated in verse 7. The prayer lays down a claim in the land of the living. The prayer declares that, however faint is my hope, God still knows where I'm at and where I'm going. And that act of prayer itself activates and grows hope.
The psalm dares to dream of freedom, where God is justly thanked for deliverance from the persecutors' trap. And the bountiful goodness of restoration to a place of wholeness and integrity is made possibless be the still more bountiful grace of the Lord.
Unknown, Massacre of the Paulicians at the orders of the Byzantine empress Theodora, in 843/844 (edited). 12/13th century. Chronicle of John Skylitzes, cod. Vitr. 26-2, fol. 69, Madrid National Library. 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 fewer.
* 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.