Read: Psalm 125
Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts (Psalm 125:4, NRSV).
When my grandmother was dying, she said she could see a beautiful meadow. “If only I could get over and walk in that meadow,” she sighed.
Many of us have felt a longing like that this past week. But none have felt it more keenly than people of color. If part of what that meadow represents is justice, then they have been waiting to walk there for a very long time.
Psalm 125 reads like it was written by a pastor who is all too familiar with that longing. The sermon starts out confident enough, full of reassuring words about how God surrounds the people like the mountains surround Jerusalem. “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,” the pastor preaches, perhaps pounding the pulpit for emphasis. They are steadfast as that mountain, “which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”
But some of that confidence begins to slip as the psalm goes on. Something is very wrong. A “scepter of wickedness” is stretched over the land. There is no end in sight—no justice in sight. All of the power seems to be in the wrong hands.
Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. There doesn’t seem to be any reward for doing the right thing. The wicked flourish; the righteous suffer. This pastor is afraid that the faithful will lose faith—that they will “stretch out their hand to do wrong.” If there is no justice, after all, why bother?
This won’t last, the pastor tells the congregation. The justice you long for is real, and it’s still worth fighting for. God is not fooled by the pretenders who misuse their power, who talk about justice but pull the rug out from under it at every opportunity.
Then the sermon turns into a prayer. “Do good, O LORD, to those who are good!” (v. 4, italics mine). This is the point where the pastor speaks, not to the congregation, but for them. Lord, have mercy! is the cry of their heart. Their longing is palpable, and their suffering all too real.
This psalm reads like it was written last week. And for what it’s worth, its longing for justice is shared by people the world over. Those of you in the USA should know that the world is watching, both in horror and solidarity. Protests against racial injustice are taking place in Rome, Naples, Florence, and Milan. It seems people all around the world are longing for that beautiful meadow just across the fence.
There is a German word for this kind of longing: Sehnsucht. While the word does not have a precise English counterpart, “homesickness” may capture some of what it conveys. But one definition suggests that Sehnsucht is a longing for something you never had. If that’s the case, then it’s no wonder we feel it so keenly.
Our longing is as real as our pain—indeed, the two are intertwined. But in the midst of both, the preacher of Psalm 125 reminds us not to give up. Someday, with God’s help, we will walk in that meadow. We are marching to that meadow.
Ponder: As you watch the news, what specific longings do you feel? What longings do you hear other people expressing?
Pray: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
Listen to It Is Enough by R. DeAndre Johnson. Pastor Johnson wrote the song in in 2016. He chose to sing it again on June 1, 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd. You can hear the pain and the longing throughout the piece, but especially in the words of these last two verses:
O my soul, it aches and yearns
for a day when passions burn
for others with deep love, concern:
There are no words that can contain
the depths of wounds our souls sustain
each time a grieving heart exclaims:
“The View from Here” Series
As many of you know, I am spending my sabbatical in Italy. After living for several months in the heart of Rome, I recently made a move to the mountains. (The Italian side of the Cottian Alps, to be precise—southwest of Turin and very close to the French border.) The transition was tricky, what with the pandemic and Italy’s tight restrictions on travel. But I am grateful for the spectacular change of scenery after being locked down in a two-room apartment. While the view has changed, I will continue to offer what I hope is a unique perspective on Italy—and the world—right now.
And yes—the picture above really is the place where I am living. Now you know why I’m calling this series, “The View from Here.” I hope that you will be able to enjoy that view vicariously, as well as some of the deep peace of this place.