16 July 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
16 July 2022 (Psalm 143)

‘For the enemy has pursued me … making me sit in darkness like those long dead’ (Psalm 143: 3) … graves in the Dublin Progressive Jewish Community cemetery on Oldcourt Road, Rathfarnham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time. The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (16 July 2022) commemorates Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury (1099). 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 143:

Psalm 143 is the sixth psalm in the final Davidic collection of psalms (Psalm 138 to Psalm 145) that are specifically attributed to David in their opening verses, and it is one of the seven Penitential Psalms.

In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is Psalm 142. This psalm often serves as a prayer in times of distress. Its opening words in Latin are: Domine, exaudi orationem meam.

Psalm 143 is a prayer for deliverance from the psalmist’s enemies, and takes the form of a king’s prayer for victory and peace. According to Saint Augustine of Hippo, this psalm was probably written during the period of the rebellion of David’s son Absalom.

The psalm has two equal sections, verses 1-6 and 7-12, separated by a Selah.

Psalm 143 begins by asking God to hear our prayer and not to judge us. The Greek Orthodox theologian, author and blogger Father Stavros Akrotirianakis finds it comforting that in this psalm we hear the words ‘for no one living is righteous before you’ (verse 2). We are all the same when it comes to feeling inadequate standing before God.

For us as readers today, the ‘enemy’ that pursues us (verse 3) can be a person, a situation, a setback, or our own sense of anxiety. There are many times when that enemy causes us to feel as though we have been crushed or that we ‘sit in darkness’ (verse 3).

What is our response when we feel this way? Is it to quit? To self-medicate? Where is the first place we run when we feel crushed?

The psalm reminds us that when we feel crushed, we are supposed to stretch our hands to God (verse 6), and to direction from God for how and where we are to go.

When we pray ‘Let your good spirit lead me on a level path’ (verse 10) we are saying that we are willing to follow where the Spirit leads, rather than choosing our own way.

Verse 11 in the NRSV reads: ‘For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life. In your righteousness bring me out of trouble.’

Stavros Akrotirianakis identifies a critical omission in the translation of verses 11-12. Most English translations of Psalm 143 omit the word ‘soul’, in Greek ψυχήν (psyche. The Greek translation of this Psalm says: ἐν τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ σου ἐξάξεις ἐκ θλίψεως τὴν ψυχήν μου, which correctly translated means, ‘In your righteousness bring out of trouble my soul’ (verse 11).

English translations most often used says ‘bring me out of trouble,’ which can mean many things, because we get in many kinds of trouble – trouble with the law, trouble with finances, trouble passing the exam we did not study for, and so on. The intention of the Psalmist, however, is that our prayer is for spiritual healing, and that our souls be brought out of trouble.

Verse 12 concludes the psalm by saying: καὶ ἐν τῷ ἐλέει σου ἐξολεθρεύσεις τοὺς ἐχθρούς μου καὶ ἀπολεῖς πάντας τοὺς θλίβοντας τὴν ψυχήν μου ὅτι δοῦλός σού εἰμι ἐγώ. This correctly translates as ‘And in your mercy destroy my enemies, and you will totally destroy all those who afflict my soul, for I am your servant.’

A cursory reading of most English translations would lead us to think that we are to use the Psalms to ask God to wage war against anyone who is against us, which in today’s culture could be an unfair line manager, or a mean colleague. This verse asks God specifically to destroy those who afflict our souls, not our lives. Being rid of anything that does not go our way is not healing, but is narcissism.

We cannot expect God to heal every infirmity in our bodies, or every setback in our lives. Asking God to be healed from the things and people that afflict our souls and therefore our relationship with God, is a fair request, and one that God will answer.

‘Let your good spirit lead me on a level path’ (Psalm 143: 10) … a pathway through the woods at Ballysaggartmore, Lismore, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Psalm 143 (NRSVA):

A Psalm of David.

1 Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness;
answer me in your righteousness.
2 Do not enter into judgement with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

3 For the enemy has pursued me,
crushing my life to the ground,
making me sit in darkness like those long dead.
4 Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.

5 I remember the days of old,
I think about all your deeds,
I meditate on the works of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

7 Answer me quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
8 Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

9 Save me, O Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
Let your good spirit lead me
on a level path.

11 For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life.
In your righteousness bring me out of trouble.
12 In your steadfast love cut off my enemies,
and destroy all my adversaries,
for I am your servant.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week has been ‘Partners in Mission.’ It was introduced on Sunday.

Saturday 16 July 2022:

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

Let us pray for churches working in ecumenical partnerships in their communities. May they work well together to be a faithful presence in their local areas.

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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