March 10: Lenten mules and beatitudes
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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!