A Reflection on Psalm 112 by Canon Rob,
June 11th 2023, The Feast of St Barnabas.
Here is one of the many icons of St Barnabas showing him holding a scroll. It will be of St Matthew’s Gospel, as on his missionary journeys, Barnabas is believed to have always carried a copy of the Gospel with him. What we know for sure from the Acts of the Apostles is that Barnabas was a “good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” [Acts 11.24] He was a Cypriot Jew and often accompanied St Paul on his missionary journeys. Tradition has it that he was martyred in Cyprus.
Psalm 112 is therefore fitting for today because it clearly refers to those who are happy, or blessed, because they fear, or have a deep faith in, the Lord. The psalm begins with words of praise for such people! “Alleluia. Blessed are those who fear the Lord and have great delight in his commandments.” They are among the righteous and, as verse 6 says, they “will be held in everlasting remembrance.” Each year, on this day, St Barnabas is remembered and his life and faith celebrated. Psalm 112 continues the theme of the previous psalm, which ends how today’s psalm begins. So, as you reflect on psalm 112, you may find it helpful to look at psalm 111 too. That psalm is in praise of God; Psalm 112 is a hymn of praise about those who are faithful to God.
Verses 2 and 3 of today’s psalm very much reflect the understanding of the people of Israel that blessings poured upon the faithful will continue through the generations, just as the “the sins of the fathers” do. “Their descendants will be mighty in the land, a generation of the faithful that will be blest. Wealth and riches will be in their houses, and their righteousness endures for ever.” Possibly this understanding goes back to Abraham’s relationship with God. Genesis Chapter 12 tells us about God’s call to Abram (as he was originally called) and God says to him, “I will bless you and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing….And through you I will bless all the nations.” [Genesis 12.1-3] The message of Psalm 112 is that good things can happen to good people. So, in verse 4 those who are righteous are reassured that, “Light shines in the darkness” for them, and in verse 5 they can be encouraged because, “It goes well with those who are generous in lending, and order their affairs with justice.” Those who read this psalm will almost certainly be familiar with the 10 Commandments given to Moses. They are stark and formidably challenging. Today’s psalm is challenging too, but in a way which is perhaps more positive and encouraging.
If you watch “The One Show” on BBC 1 you will have seen “One Big Thank you,” a weekly celebration of someone who does a great deal usually in and for their local communities and often at great cost to themselves. We admire such people. They remind us that human beings can, and often are, generous and caring: something we need to help balance much of what we see or hear in the news. Psalm 112 is about such people and it tells us that they will be rewarded. In verse 9 we read, “They have given freely to the poor, their righteousness stands for ever; their head will be exalted with honour.” Perhaps this seems rather simplistic for us today. How often do we say of someone who we really admire and becomes very ill, “She/he doesn’t deserve that!” But the writer of the psalm will have known that those who have a deep faith in God will be helped to face suffering and believe that it doesn’t have the final word. Verse 7 puts it this way: “They will not be afraid of any evil tidings; their heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Such faith brings with it courage and a self- confidence which can help us do what we would otherwise be unable to do. St Barnabas will have found this to be true, faithful as he was to Christ and the Gospel. In giving thanks to God for him, pray that you may continue to grow in faith.
God of truth, help us to keep your law of love and to walk in ways of wisdom,
that we may find true life in Jesus Christ your Son.
[Alternative Collect for Trinity 1]