A Reflection on Psalm 15 by Canon Rob,
14th May 2023, Feast of St Matthias
In the Church’s Calendar, today is the Feast of St Matthias although falling on a Sunday this year, his Feast is transferred to tomorrow. However, as he was an apostle, let us remember him in this Reflection at least, and consider Psalm 15 which is the one set for ‘his day.’ As with many Saints, legends about about Matthias abound because we know so little about him, but the Acts of the Apostles [see Acts 1.15-26] tells us that following the betrayal by, and death of, Judas Iscariot the remaining apostles wanted to replace him and bring back their number to twelve. Matthias was chosen. He qualified because he had, apparently, been with Jesus during his three year ministry and was also a witness to the resurrection. Psalm 15 begins with the questions: “Lord who may dwell in your tabernacle? Who may rest upon your holy hill?” The apostles may have asked, “Who is worthy to replace Judas?” They understood the qualifications, but how to chose? Is it stretching the imagination too far to say that the answers to the questions raised in verse 1 of the psalm perhaps give an indication of the qualities required?
George Appleton, a former Bishop of Jerusalem, said, “…all the 613 commandments of the Pentateuch (the first five books in the Bible once attributed to Moses) are summed up in this psalm.” Psalm 15 gives a clear understanding of what is needed for someone to have access to God. That includes being “uncorrupt” and doing “right,” (verse 2) “speaking the truth,” and bearing “no deceit,” (verse 3) doing “no evil,” (verse 4) and so on. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, we find references similar to some of these “conditions.” The prophet Isaiah. e.g., refers to “the man who lives an upright life and speaks the truth” [See Isaiah 33.15] and in the Book of Exodus we read, “You shall not accept a bribe, for bribery makes the discerning man blind….” [Exodus 23.8] Verse 7 of our psalm condemns bribery “against the innocent.” The person who was chosen to take the place of Judas Iscariot had a lot to live up to!
Psalm 15 possibly formed part of a liturgy as worshippers entered the Temple in Jerusalem, rather like singing an introit hymn at the beginning of Christian worship, although such hymns could be said to contain more words of hope than the words conveyed by Psalm 15. “Awake, awake: fling off the night” is one introit hymn we sing at St Dunstan’s occasionally with it’s third verse:
“Let in the light; all sin expose to Christ, whose life no darkness knows.
Before his cross for guidance kneel; his light will judge and, judging, heal.”
Penitence and judgement are called for in this hymn, just as they are behind the words of the psalm. As we acknowledge in the first prayer we say together at the Eucharist, God knows everything about us for from Him no secrets are hidden. However, we live in hope because we believe that through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have a new relationship with God which the author of the Psalm could not know. He was waiting for the Messiah, the Saviour.
Yet Psalm 15 still begs the question, “Who is worthy?” Who is worthy to enter the House of God, be that the Temple (as in the psalm) or a Christian church? Who is worthy to live in God’s presence? Who is worthy to be one of Christ’s disciples? The answer is an emphatic “no one!” Yet, through His perfect Love revealed in and through Jesus, we are accepted and forgiven just as we are. That doesn’t mean we can do as we please. However, it does mean that as we try and follow Jesus in our day to day lives, we are encouraged to do so because we are loved.
Lord, lead us to our heavenly home by single steps of self-restraint and deeds of righteousness.
[Prayer at the end of Psalm 15 in Common Worship, Daily Prayer]