29 March 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
29 March 2022 (Psalms 49)

‘I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp’ (Psalm 49: 4) … a carving in Saint Botolph without Aldgate, London, shows King David playing the harp (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

My treatment in hospital continues for the stroke I had 11 days ago (18 March 2022). I waited all afternoon yesterday and then through the night for two expected tranfers that I wa told to prepare for but that never took place from Milton Keynes University Hospital to the John Radcliff Hospital in Oxford. Hopefull that transfer takes place later this morning and I expect more tests and consultations during the day. But, before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning (29 March 2022) for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 49:

Psalm 49 is attributed to the sons of Korah and is closely connected with the Wisdom literature in the Bible. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate translations, this is Psalm 48.

In Jewish tradition, this psalm is recited during prayer services in the house of a mourner during the week of shiva following a funeral.

Psalm 49 is attributed to the sons of Korah after recognising their father’s greed for wealth as the root of his downfall. This is the final psalm by the sons of Korah in this series, although we hear more from them again later.

Commentators note that this Psalm addresses all peoples with a theme of common interest to all humanity: is not wealth, after all, the master-force in the world? Must not the poor tremble before its power and pay court to its splendour? In reply, the Psalmist expresses his own faith that righteousness will be finally triumphant.

The author tells all the nations of this world to pay attention. All of us, rich and poor alike, are subject to the same worldly distractions (verse 1-2). The author will impart words of wisdom, which are the result of his thoughtful contemplations. He will consider a parable (verse 3) that Rashi, the mediaeval rabbinical sage, says refers to the Torah. The author understands he is unravelling the mysteries of the universe on his harp (verse 4).

The author asks why he should be afraid in ‘times of trouble’ (verse 5). This could mean this world in general or old age in particular, as health declines.

All of a sudden, the sins we once did not consider significant come to accuse us. Many people put their faith in money, but in the end, their wealth cannot save them. You cannot pay off God and get an extension. The soul is priceless – it can only be redeemed with deeds, not with money.

A person’s body does not live forever; it will eventually be buried. Wise people die physically, but people who waste their lives in foolish pursuits do not even live on spiritually. The money they spent all their efforts acquiring will be inherited by others, so what was the point? They think they have built some eternal legacy, but they are deluding themselves.

People die and our material pursuits are no more lasting than the accomplishments of simple animals. Yet this is how some people choose to spend their lives.

People who waste their lives acquiring only wealth to the exclusion of merits leave. The souls of evil people are eradicated. Righteous people triumph in the end. The wicked are worn away, but God saves the faithful and brings them to him.

When a person makes a lot of money, he may build a beautiful house, but when he dies it will not go with him. If the only thing he worships in his lifetime was himself, then his life is over. But a person who works on himself will be praised by those he leaves behind and will live on. The souls of the good will rise to light, while those of the evil will fall in darkness. A person does not truly comprehend his mission in this world, distracted by materialistic goals like an animal.

‘Why should I fear in times of trouble … those who trust in their wealth’ (Psalm 49: 5-6) … torn and ragged banknotes in an antiques shop in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 49 (NRSVA):

To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.

1 Hear this, all you peoples;
give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
2 both low and high,
rich and poor together.
3 My mouth shall speak wisdom;
the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
4 I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

5 Why should I fear in times of trouble,
when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,
6 those who trust in their wealth
and boast of the abundance of their riches?
7 Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life,
there is no price one can give to God for it.
8 For the ransom of life is costly,
and can never suffice,
9 that one should live on for ever
and never see the grave.

10 When we look at the wise, they die;
fool and dolt perish together
and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their graves are their homes for ever,
their dwelling-places to all generations,
though they named lands their own.
12 Mortals cannot abide in their pomp;
they are like the animals that perish.

13 Such is the fate of the foolhardy,
the end of those who are pleased with their lot
14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
Death shall be their shepherd;
straight to the grave they descend,
and their form shall waste away;
Sheol shall be their home.
15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
for he will receive me.

16 Do not be afraid when some become rich,
when the wealth of their houses increases.
17 For when they die they will carry nothing away;
their wealth will not go down after them.
18 Though in their lifetime they count themselves happy
—for you are praised when you do well for yourself—
19 they will go to the company of their ancestors,
who will never again see the light.
20 Mortals cannot abide in their pomp;
they are like the animals that perish.

Today’s Prayer:

The USPG Prayer Diary this week, under the heading ‘Let my people go,’ focuses on the approximately 230 million Dalits living in India. Considered outcasts, these communities suffer systematic exclusion and discrimination under the caste system, a system of social stratification. The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (29 March 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the many schools, universities and hospitals administered by the Church of North India (CNI). May we look to the CNI’s community work as an example to be followed.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Their graves are their homes for ever, their dwelling-places to all generations’ (Psalm 49: 11) … graves in the old Jewish cemetery in Lido in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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