26 June 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
26 June 2022 (Psalm 123)

‘To you I lift up my eyes’ (Psalm 123: 1) … the London Eye at night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford) Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time, and today is the Second Sunday after Trinity (26 June 2022). Later this morning, I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford.

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary 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 123:

Psalm 123 is the fourth in a series of 15 short psalms (Psalm 120-134) known as the ‘Songs of Ascents.’ These psalms begin with the Hebrew words שיר המעלות‎ (Shir Hama’a lot). In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is counted as Psalm 122. It is sometimes known by its Latin opening words, Ad te levavi oculos meos.

Many scholars say these psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals. Others say they were sung by the Levite singers as they ascended the 15 steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Mishnah notes the correspondence between the 15 songs and the 15 steps between the men’s court and the women’s courtyards in the Temple. A Talmudic legend says King David composed or sang the 15 songs to calm the rising waters at the foundation of the Temple.

One view says the Levites first sang the Songs of Ascent at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple during the night of 15 Tishri 959 BCE. Another study suggests they were composed for a celebration after Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in 445 BCE. Others suggest they may originally have been songs sung by the exiles returning from Babylon ascending to Jerusalem, or individual poems later collected together and given the title linking them to pilgrimage after the Babylonian captivity.

These psalms are cheerful and hopeful, and they place an emphasis on Zion. They were suited for being sung because of their poetic style and the sentiments they express. They are brief, almost like epigrams, and they are marked by the use of a keyword or repeated phrase that serves as a rung on which the poem ascends to its final theme.

Psalm 123 is a short psalm of four verses. This is a prayer for deliverance from enemies.

Verses 1-3 speak of humble submission to God’s will. We look with our eyes to God, seeking his mercy (verse 3). The speakers here are Israel or an oppressed group within Israel, and they seek God’s help and mercy, having had their fill of contempt, the scorn of the powerful, and derision.

Scorn and contempt have been laid upon the people, and they are either incapable or unwilling to fight against it alone. They turn to the Lord with confidence that they will receive mercy.

An important dimension of mercy, רַחֵ֖ם (see Isaiah 49: 15), is that it can be understood as the tender love a mother has for her children. The psalmist’s wish is for the Lord to show motherly care for the people.

If you feel that there is no place to turn, no one to help, will you turn to the Lord for mercy?

In fact, will you turn to the Lord first?

Consider the innocent of the world, those suffering oppression, hunger, disease, those living in war-torn regions, those who have been kidnapped, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, children separated from their parents and families as they flee in search of freedom, yet are treated with contempt when they arrive on these shores.

Can you pray to the Lord for mercy for them?

‘Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt’ (Psalm 123: 3) … ‘Humanity’s Contempt for Humanity’ by Peter Walker in the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral in 2018 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 123 (NRSVA):

A Song of Ascents.

1 To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he has mercy upon us.

3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than its fill
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Ethics and Leadership,’ and is introduced today by Andy Flannagan, Executive Director of Christians in Politics. He writes:

‘We shouldn’t disconnect ethics from leadership. Politics isn’t just about getting things done, and when you study any organisation, you’ll discover they are built in the image of their leaders. Just like business leaders, political leaders establish the culture and are role models and influencers of the public square.

‘If, as Genesis says, we are created in the image of God (Imago Dei), then we are called to govern because He governs. And we are called to govern in a way that represents Him to the world. The link between governance and character shouldn’t be bypassed, as it often is in our current public square.

‘At Christians in Politics, we believe in the importance of developing character and being true to the ‘distinctive mark’ we’ve been given by God. Yes, we are made in the image of God, but our character develops over time only through accountable relationships and discipleship. Our hope is that the next generation of public leaders is better supported and nourished than the previous generation. Our hope is that they will have people alongside them holding up their arms and calling them back to the Imago Dei engraved in their lives.

Sunday 26 June 2022:

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray today in these words:

King of kings,
teach us how to be humble and caring leaders.
May we be wise in our decisions and
thoughtful in our actions.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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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