March 10, 2011

March 10: Lenten mules and beatitudes

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By James E. Brenneman, president
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 32 (NRSV)
Scroll down for complete Scripture.

DEVOTIONAL:
It’s not every day that someone says to me, “Don’t be such a mule!” or some even more blunt version. And yet, here, in Scripture, the Psalmist says just that (v. 9). Got my attention! And so I sit up and listen. Just what is it that I do or do not do that reflects such stubbornness to warrant being called a “donkey” or worse by the Psalmist?

Clues to the Psalmist’s rebuke comes in the first half of the Psalm, when a “carrot” is held out in the form of two beatitudes: “Happy (or blessed) are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (v. 1) and “Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (v. 2). By contrast, the consequence of not being forgiven or keeping silent about our sins results in unhappiness. We feel horrible. We lose our appetites, we are tormented and can’t sleep. We languish in travail, wasting away in body, soul and spirit (v. 3-4) – a rather depressing outcome.

The Psalmist is using what I once heard called, “the carrot-tipped-stick” approach. If we aren’t persuaded by incentives of blessing, then, perhaps, we’ll be shaken out of our willfulness by a misery-index. And if we’re really stubborn about it, a bit of name calling might do. “Don’t be a mule!”

The remedy to such travail is simple enough (v. 5): acknowledgement of our wrongdoing, revealing our indiscretions, going to the Lord with a contrite spirit and confessing our transgressions. And God, in turn, forgives “the guilt of our sin. Selah!” Selah, is a Hebrew word, perhaps, a musical notation, meaning something like, “stop and listen!” God has forgiven you! God has forgiven me! God forgives us!

What a perfect beginning to the Lenten season. Here we are reminded again how to become truly and fully human. The full joy, benefit and blessing of Easter is ours to receive, if we but confess our faults and our falling-short to God, who in steadfast love (v. 10) forgives us no matter what. “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O forgiven ones, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (v. 11). Selah!

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 32 (NRSV)
1Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. (Selah) 5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Selah) 6Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. (Selah) 8I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 10Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

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Comments (4)

  1. Thanks for your reminder of this important scripture,

    Mary K. Mishler March 10, 2011 |
  2. A very helpful and timely scripture and message. Thank you! I feel blessed just to be called out of my misery.

    Kathy March 10, 2011 |
  3. Different scripture is used today in this devotion compared to the Psalm used at the Catholic church this morning but it is good to ponder on many scripture passenges. I need to prepare myself to go to confession again this is a good way of doing so. Looking at my life and my transgressions is a way of getting closer to God. I have planned on going to mass everyday during Lent. Day 2 is done. Give me perseverence to keep up with this task.

    Cathy March 10, 2011 |
  4. Thank you for the lesson. It is a joyful reminder to confess our sins and to know that God loves us. It’s also good to hear that Quinn doesn’t call you a mule on a daily basis. :)

    David March 13, 2011 |