Psalm for the Ideal Ruler
Wednesday, May 31, 2006 -- Week of 7 Easter -- The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.
Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this link -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html
Today's Readings for the Daily Office (p. 965)
Wednesday, Week of 7 Easter
Psalms 101, 109:1-4(5-19) 20-30 (morning) // 119:121-144 (afternoon)
OR readings for The Feast of the Visitation (p. 997)
Morning Prayer: Psalm 72; 1 Samuel 1:1-20; Hebrews 3:1-6
Evening Prayer: Psalms 146, 147; Zechariah 2:10-13; John 3:25-30
(note: I used the readings for the Visitation)
The morning psalm appointed for the feast of the Visitation is the royal psalm 72. It is a song and prayer for the ideal ruler. Good choice for the day when we remember the story of Mary's visit to her older cousin Elizabeth to share the good news that she is expecting a child. In Luke's account, Mary sings a song of praise that prophesies God's great work of reversal -- to scatter the proud and lift up the lowly, to fill the hungry and send the rich away empty.
Psalm 72 asks for justice and righteousness from the ruler. "He shall defend the needy among the people; he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor." The biblical dream for the ideal leader repeatedly calls for a government that will care for and protect the poor and needy. Historically it seems that the interests of the wealthy and powerful usually get taken care of first by the authorities and the needs of the poor are often a reluctant priority.
As I was reading the psalm, my imagination wondered what our nation might be like if our government fulfilled the dream of the psalmist. At first the psalm reads like this ideal ruler would be a "kick butt and take names" leader when dealing with foreign enemies -- "His foes shall bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust." The psalm expects tribute and gifts from foreign rulers. "All kings shall bow down before him, and all the nations do him service." And here is where the psalm jumped out at me. All of these foreigners shall offer their respects to this ideal king, "For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper. He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy. He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight. Long may he live! and may there be given to him gold from Arabia; may prayer be made for him always; and may they bless him all the day long."
That's a different kind of ruler. They honor this ruler because of his generosity and justice, not just his military prowess. These foreign lands are praying for him and blessing him, and even Arabia is generously cooperating with his agenda. Why? Because of his goodness and his commitment to the poor.
I wonder. What if our leaders had responded to the evil of 9/11 with generosity and justice? Yes, moving decisively in a police action against the actual perpetrators of the crime. (And willing to let the blood of others who suffer helplessly in genocidal conflicts be blood that is dear in our sight as well. Using military force to stop genocide and the oppression of bullies toward the helpless.) What if our leaders had responded primarily with compassion and generosity directed toward the suffering and injustice that creates the conditions which breed terrorists? What if we had used our power to broker a just peace between Israel and Palestine? What if we had created quality schools in Pakistan and Malaysia teaching math and science and humanities instead of the militant Islamic schools who are the only ones serving these isolated children? What if our compassion and care and justice were so present and obvious that would-be terrorists would no longer get traction with their hate? What if we had loved Tarshish and Arabia and Saba so much that they blessed us instead of cursed us?
That's the kind of ruler who would be remembered with honor by all nations. "May his Name remain for ever and be established as long as the sun endures; may all the nations bless themselves in him and call him blessed." The psalmist prays longingly for such a leader. So do I.
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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
St. Paul's Episcopal Church