“Deliver me, O Lord . . .”

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm [120], 121, 122, 123 (Morning)
Psalm 124, 125, 126, [127] (Evening)
2 Kings 22:1-13
1 Cor. 11:2,17-22
Matt. 9:1-8

“Deliver me, O Lord . . .”

When I feel slandered, defamed, denigrated, smeared, or maligned, I sometimes take a decidedly “Old Testament” slant on it. Like the narrator of Psalm 120, I might wish my detractors “sharp arrows, with glowing coals.” I’m not proud to confess (but also not too proud to confess, here in the safety of our fellowship) that I fantasize that they’ll be sorry they mistreated me with their “deceitful tongues.” Instead of just nibbling at the flashy barbed lure of resentment, I’ll swallow the whole thing – hook, line, and sinker – and then suffer terribly from having it stuck in my craw. I’ll blame my “slanderers” for my pain, and nurse my smoldering anger, long after they’ve happily forgotten all about it.

At the time Jesus became widely known, many Jews longed for vengeance on their hated Roman occupiers. They wanted their new messianic King to call down God’s arrows onto the Romans and use red-hot coals to light a fire under their assets. But Jesus didn’t turn out to be that kind of guy. He instead turned the other cheek, walked the extra mile, and offered undeserved grace and forgiveness to all. For the vengeful, this seemed a clear and disappointing failure. Like our Psalmist, they never got to read the New Testament. Jesus’ message of forgiving — of wishing eternal wellbeing to undeserving oppressors, opponents, enemies, anybody, everybody — sounds quite different from what our Psalmist had in mind.

Jesus did not “undo” any of the Law, but sure did seem to complicate it. Even though I have read the New Testament, I can still struggle with this Love-Thine-Enemy thing. It makes sense to me theologically, and makes sense to me logically, but emotionally, I can find it challenging. Like the Psalmist, I too hope for relief from humiliation or shame. But unlike the Psalmist, when I pray “Deliver me . . . from lying lips,” it’s not the same open-and-shut case of presuming that punishment will to be “done to” my opponent. Instead it’s a much less clear-cut, more suspenseful question: will I be open enough to allow God instead to “deliver me” by changing ME? What if God wants to “deliver me” not from “those who hate peace,” but from my own unforgiveness?

Written by Ellis Ralph

Ralph Ellis was a successful, stressed-out, overworked manufacturing engineer, but threw all that away, devoting his energy instead to being the unknown folk singer/songwriter Ellis Ralph. Playing in pubs, churches, and retreats, and becoming a duo with sexy electric bass player and singer/songwriter Judi Neal, Ellis Ralph has had much more fun than Ralph Ellis ever did, and has no plans of going back to being a responsible adult. Ellis attends 11 o’clock service, and loves taking a turn to read or to bear the chalice.

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