Canon Rob's Reflections

Making the right choice

A Reflection on Psalm 1 by Canon Rob
Psalm for 12th May 2024, The Sunday After Ascension Day

Reflection 12th May 1Some readers of this Reflection may recall the Lent Courses I led several years ago on “Praying with the Psalms,” loosely based on a book written by Walter Brueggemann. It is a book I treasure largely because it helped me see the Psalms through “new eyes” and to value them. If you have read several of these Reflections, you will know that a good number of the psalms are challenging, not least those which express condemnation on “the enemy.” Reading, or writing about, such psalms against the back-drop of the violence taking place in the Holy Land, makes me feel very uncomfortable. Yet that is inevitable when this ancient book of Israel’s hymns conveys everything we humans experience. Today we reflect upon the first of the hundred and fifty psalms. It makes a fitting introduction to the Psalter and also makes clear that the choice about the way we live is largely down to us. Certainly, God will guide us if we ask Him to and He gives us the strength, through His Holy Spirit, to do what is right. However, we all have free will and the author of Psalm 1 shows what difference making the right or wrong choice can have. As we reflect upon the psalms, we enter into a dialogue with God, asking for His help and hearing what He has to say to us through its words.

Reflection 12th May 2A quick look at today’s psalm shows that it falls into two parts. The opening verses speak of those who are blessed because they have “not walked in the counsel of the wicked” (verse 1) and “their delight is in the law of the Lord.” (verse 2) As Walter Brueggemann says, “Jews cannot pray very long without meditating on the Torah. [The Law]…. the Torah is not only command but assurance, not only a rule but a bulwark.” [page 50] In an age where we value individual freedom, which in its extreme means I can please myself, obeying laws can seem a burden. But for the author of today’s psalm it is a blessing, a joy. For doing what God wants us to do brings a new kind of freedom and way of living. It is like “a tree planted by streams of water bearing fruit…” (Verse 3.) In short, doing what God wants leads to joy.

What a contrast to those who choose to turn their backs on the Torah, who disobey God. “They are like chaff which the wind blows away.” (verse 4) Chaff, along with straw, is what is left when grain is threshed. It is worthless. Although straw can be used as bedding for animals on a farm. Wickedness only leads to sadness and there is no happy end for those who pursue it. As verse 6 puts it, “…the way of the wicked shall perish.” It may not always seem that way. We may believe, sometimes rightly, that law breakers seem to ‘get away with it!’ Yet the author of today’s psalm would not see things in this way. If the wicked don’t suffer now, their wrong doing will catch up with them in the end. Consider verse 5: “….the wicked shall not be able to stand in the judgement, nor the sinner in the congregation of the righteous.” This was written as a warning! (See Deuteronomy 30:11-20 which makes very clear the contrast between obeying and disobeying the Torah and the outcome of each.) Reflection 12th May 3If you are a regular reader of these Reflections, you will know that many of the psalms contrast what is right or good with what is wrong or evil. Psalm 37:1-10, for example, continues the theme of today’s psalm. It begins, “Fret not because of the ungodly…For they shall soon wither like grass…” and in verse 9 we read, “…evil doers shall be cut off, but those who wait upon the Lord shall possess the land.” The faithful are encouraged to be patient and, in time, their patience will be rewarded and justice will be seen to be done. The psalm is a call to trust the Lord, especially when those who read it will come to know, if they don’t know already, that the reference to “the land” is a summary of all the blessings which God will pour upon his faithful people. Or, as in today’s psalm, those who delight in God’s law, “shall prosper.”

Christ our wisdom, give us delight in your law, that we may bear fruits of patience and peace
in the kingdom of righteousness.
[Prayer at the end of Psalm 1 in Common Worship, Daily Prayer]

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