Psalm 71:1–18a; Proverbs 24; 2 Corinthians 6:3–18

Psalm 71:1–18a: This psalm of supplication opens with the psalmist’s simple statement, “In You, O Lord, I shelter,” and immediately asks God “Through Your bounty save me and free me./ Incline Your ear to me and rescue me.” (2) There is no beating around the bush here. God does not require a lengthy, worshipful introduction when we pray. Just come right to the point.

As usual, there are wicked enemies from whom the psalmist seeks rescue: “My God, free me form the hand of the wicked,/ from the grip of the wicked and the violent.” (4) The poet reminds God that they have been in a longstanding relationship: “O Lord, [you have been] my refuge since youth./ Upon You I relied from birth.” (6) At this point, supplication becomes thanksgiving: “You are my sheltering strength./ May my mouth be filled with Your praise,/ all day long Your glory.” (8) and then supplication again: “God do not keep far from me./ My God, hasten to my help.” (11).  Following the usual formula of hoping God will destroy his mocking enemies, he returns to praise: “My mouth will recount Your bounty,/ all day long Your rescue.” (15)

The jumping back and forth between supplication and thanksgiving demonstrates just how close a relationship the psalmist has with God. There is no need for rigid formulaic structures to our prayers. This psalm is a reminder that prayer is a conversation that roams between our needs and praise for the wonders of God’s love. God knows what we’re talking about, what we need and the depths of our love for him–and that he loves us.

Proverbs 24: Our sage demonstrates the relationship of wisdom, understanding and knowledge in two couplets:
By wisdom a house is built,
    and by understanding it is established;
by knowledge the rooms are filled
    with all precious and pleasant riches.

Wisdom is the overarching structure–the house–and it is built through understanding. Understanding emerges from the accumulation of knowledge, which metaphorically here is the furniture in wisdom’s house. Too often we stop as knowledge, as if that’s sufficient. But to extend the metaphor here, it would be like furnishing a patio, knowledge is useful only when it is found in the house of wisdom. In short, smart people with a myriad of facts at their fingertips are not necessarily wise.

From my increasingly aged perch here, I see knowledge all around me: especially in technology, in politics, in social structures. But the evidence of knowledge deployed without true understanding–without real wisdom–will inevitably bring dolorous consequences. Examples abound: ill-formed political decisions implemented without looking ahead to possible negative impact on other players. Or, technology to perform many amazing things at the genetic level without considering the ethical implications. Or, jumping on a popular bandwagon such as gay marriage without considering its long-term societal effects, never mind its ethical ones.

2 Corinthians 6:3–18: We see Paul’s deep hurt–and simmering anger– at how he has been treated by the Corinthians. When Paul is speaking emotionally rather than theologically he becomes a maker of lists and we have lists aplenty here. Paul notes how he has suffered for simply spreading the Good News: “as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;” (4,5). But privation and suffering has brought out good qualities as well: “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God;” (6, 7)  

The true depth of Paul’s agony comes out in the list of oppositions: “in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed;  as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (8-10)

His implication is clear: he has been treated shabbily and unfairly by the Corinthians. They have rejected him–doubtless because of the harsh assessments and tough advice in his first letter. He says as much, “ We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians.” (11) But we have no doubt of Paul’s sincerity when he says, “our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.” Although, being Paul, he cannot resist a sharp remark, “In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.” (13).  

But did they?



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