Psalm 69:1–12; Proverbs 18; 2 Corinthians 1:23–2:13

Psalm 69:1–12: The opening line of the psalm–“Rescue me, God,”–is succinct. It’s the brief cry for help of a drowning man. The metaphor of being caught in a flash flood in the desert is harrowing: “for the waters have come up to my neck./ I have sunk in the slime of the deep,/ and there is no place to stand.” (2,3) Worse, “the current has swept me away.” (3b). These are exactly the images we are seeing on TV of the severe flooding in Texas and Oklahoma.  And there can be no more terrifying feeling that to be in water up to one’s neck and being carried away by the swift current.

The psalmist, “exhausted from my calling out..from hoping for my God.” (4), tells us that he is hounded by enemies on all sides, and he’s specifically accused of theft: “…my lying foes./ What have I stolen/ should I then give back?” (5) In these desperate straits, the only possibility of rescue is God.

As one last tactic to get God to answer, the psalmist confesses, “God, You know my folly,/ and my guilt is not hidden from You.” (6) as he remembers his community and cries, “Let not those who hope for You be shamed through me.” (7) The poet reminds God that “Because for You I have borne reproach,/ disgrace has covered my face.” (8) Worse, “Estranged I have been form my brothers,/ and an alien to my mother’s sons” (9) because of “the zeal of Your house [that] has consumed me.” (10)

So, our poet has suffered for God’s cause; where is God now? This is not the last words of a martyr accepting his fate; these are the words of a desperate man who has done his all for God and seeks God’s rescue in return. This psalm gives us permission to cry out to God when we seem to have been abandoned by him. Yes, we know that God does not abandon us, but that doesn’t mean it sometimes doesn’t feel that way.

Proverbs 18: There’s no question that our writer anticipated the advent of social media, where everyone has a voice: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,/ but only in expressing personal opinion.” (2) and “The mouths of fools are their ruin,/and their lips a snare to themselves.” (7). We are so anxious to post our uneducated and unreflected opinions that we fail to stop and consider what someone else might think or how someone else might react to our words. This is also why when we are angry and write out our feelings in an email, one should never hit the “send” button for at least a day.

There’s a puzzling passage here that seems to suggest that bribery works: “A gift opens doors;/ it gives access to the great.” (16) Which, alas, it mostly does. But then, there seems to be a suggestion that arguing a case is pointless: “The one who first states a case seems right,/ until the other comes and cross-examines.” (17) And I suppose that’s how a member of jury would feel. But I’m not sure our writer is suggesting the proper solution: “Casting the lot puts an end to disputes/ and decides between powerful contenders.” (18). Well, maybe this would work if we could get both parties to the dispute to agree on accepting the throw of the dice. But in the main, that’s not how negotiation works.

It is the final verse that speaks to me, though: “Some friends play at friendship/ but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.” (24) “Playing at friendship” is when we pretend to be friends with someone, but have no intention of being there when that “friend” needs help. It’s the “friend” who says, “I’ll call you,” and never does, or worse, “I’ll be there” but then finds something else to do. At my age, I far prefer having fewer, trustworthy friends so that we can rely on each other. And that’s exactly what I think this proverb is saying.

 2 Corinthians 1:23–2:13: Paul writes, “So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit.” (2:1) and we wish we knew the backstory to that statement. There seems to be no question that he would be greeted with hostility by some faction or person if he physically returned to Corinth. He admits that he wrote (what I assume is I Corinthians) “as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice.” (3) Even though Paul says, “I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (4) he knows that his “abundant love” would not be reciprocated.

Apparently, there is one individual who has it out for Paul, but he knows that this personal animosity is injuring the entire body: “if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you.” (5) The community has reciprocated with animosity toward this person and Paul pleads that “this punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” (7). And, further, “I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” (8). 

Paul’s words are equally applicable today. As communities in Christ, it is far too easy to get angry with one person–especially when that person is in a position of leadership and seems to be taking the community in a direction that seems wrong. Paul is pointing out that this individual will be aware of the anger directed at him. And that is punishment enough. We are to reaffirm our love to him.

Does this mean that we have to accept the actions of this person as being right? No, I don’t think Paul is saying that. Instead, I think he is telling us that we can be angry at the actions, but that the human being himself deserves our forgiveness–and our love. Which of course is difficult to do.

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