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Psalms of God’s Tenderness – Psalm 37

Ed Hahnenberg                                                     Psalm 37

Do not be provoked by evildoers; do not envy those who do wrong.

Like grass they wither quickly; like green plants they wilt away.

Trust in the LORD and do good that you may dwell in the land and live secure. Find your delight in the LORD who will give you your heart’s desire.

Commit your way to the LORD; trust that God will act And make your integrity shine like the dawn, your vindication like noonday.

Be still before the LORD; wait for God. Do not be provoked by the prosperous, nor by malicious schemers.

Give up your anger, abandon your wrath; do not be provoked; it brings only harm.

The LORD watches over the days of the blameless; their heritage lasts forever. They will not be disgraced when times are hard; in days of famine they will have plenty.

Those whose steps are guided by the LORD; whose way God approves, may stumble, but they will never fall, for the LORD holds their hand.

Neither in my youth, nor now in old age have I ever seen the just abandoned or their children begging bread.

The just always lend generously, and their children become a blessing.  Turn from evil and do good, that you may inhabit the land forever.

For the LORD loves justice and does not abandon the faithful. When the unjust are destroyed, and the children of the wicked cut off, the just will possess the land and live in it forever.

The mouths of the just utter wisdom; their tongues speak what is right. God’s teaching is in their hearts; their steps do not falter. The wicked spy on the just and seek to kill them.

Observe the honest, mark the upright; those at peace with God have a future.

But all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off. The salvation of the just is from the LORD, their refuge in time of distress.

The LORD helps and rescues them, rescues and saves them from the wicked, because in God they take refuge.

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Trust in the LORD and do good that you may dwell in the land and live secure.

For the ancient Israelites, as well as modern citizens of the Jewish state, the land is an important factor in their history. Throughout history they have had to defend their land against history’s great empires. To live securely in the State of Israel today must be the dream of the Jewish citizen. Today, in the United States, there is worry about whether Social Security will be there for the upcoming retiring generations. If thoughtful politicians today in Israel would be “making peace” rather than war, perhaps the Palestinian suicide bombings would cease … I say, perhaps, because terrorism and “suicide bombers” have become so much a part of the culture there that there are no political guarantees. To all who fear for the future about the land or possessions they hold, the psalmist offers God’s simple command: TRUST.

Find your delight in the LORD who will give you your heart’s desire.

I guess there are many ways to read scripture. One can follow the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily readings at Mass, or a daily guide to the scriptures. One can begin at the beginning of a book of the Bible and read to its conclusion … or one can open the Bible at random to see what the Lord chooses. I use more than one approach.

However, in my twelve years commuting to teach downstate, I missed my family, home, and land especially. So, I would read Psalm 37 to give me comfort. It became my favorite psalm, because, in retirement, my heart’s desire was to remain on the farm my parents had left me. I delighted in the Lord and he gave me my heart’s desire.

Be still before the LORD; wait for God.

There is a story about a group of nuns who took care of the poor and the elderly in their nursing home. They needed to have the interior rooms of their facility painted, but the sisters had no money. So, they prayed to St. Joseph for help. Nothing happened. Not giving up on their confidence, they pulled a little trick on the great saint. They turned his statue around, so it had to face the wall. That afternoon, an anonymous donor stopped and rang the doorbell of the home. Answering the bell, the visitor handed them a check for $10,000 for the nuns to do with as they wished. Naturally, the home was painted with the money. Not too long after that they thought a piano would be a source of enjoyment to their residents. Again they petitioned St. Joseph. This time there was no delay. Someone offered them a piano. Often, in our world of haste, we are impatient with God. However, if we wait for God’s time, he will answer our prayers. St. Monica waited many years for her son to find God. When he did, he not only became a saint, but one of the greatest theologians the Catholic Church has known. “Be still and wait for God.” Three times in the Last Supper discourse, Jesus says simply: “Ask and you shall receive.”

Give up your anger, abandon your wrath; do not be provoked; it brings only harm.

It is said that the author of the Vulgate, St. Jerome, had quite a temper. I suppose anyone who translates a Bible by hand might develop a characteristic for impatience. Perhaps if Jerome had done some jogging, or had a treadmill or a punching bag, that characteristic of his personality would have been ameliorated. However, anger often springs from being insulted or put down by someone else. The desire to get even boils over until the perfect plan for getting even is planned. Yet there is an emptiness in the soul that remains, even if the plan for revenge is perfectly executed. On the other hand, psychologists tell us that holding things in is not healthy either. Some of the saints of the past endured events that had to do more than ruffle feathers. Can you imagine Barnabas’ reaction to Paul when Paul argued with him about taking John Mark on their missionary journey? Both are saints, yet both had a falling out. Or what about Peter being scolded by Paul over following the Mosaic Law? There has to be a release for anger. We can abandon our wrath in many ways, but exercise, a hobby, or a vacation might be the modern method that best suits today’s pressures. God is tenderness in its entirety and he understands how we are made, just as he understood the frustrations of his own Son in dealing with the Pharisees.

The LORD watches over the days of the blameless; their heritage lasts forever.

St. Gregory of Nazianzen wrote a beautiful sermon on giving God his due. “Recognize to whom you owe the fact that you exist; that you breathe, that you understand, that you are wise, and, above all, that you know God and hope for the kingdom of heaven and the vision of glory, now darkly and as in a mirror, but then with a greater fullness and purity. You have been made a son (and daughter) of God, co-heir with Christ.” Taking a breath is something one takes for granted, unless one is afflicted with asthma or emphysema. He watches over our days, one after the other, with no second, or fraction of a second, unnoticed in his loving care for us. He further promises us that if we remain faithful, our heritage, our eternal life with him, will last forever.

Neither in my youth, nor now in old age have I ever seen the just abandoned or their children begging bread.

This verse seems a bit overstated on first reading. History records many instances of just the contrary, especially in countries where famine occurs. Yet if one reads this in the context of the society in which it was written, it holds an important truth. I was listening to a well-educated woman from Ethiopia on radio the other day, and she was commenting on the famine in America, the famine of the soul. She said that in Ethiopia, when a family is without food, other neighbors make sure that the impoverished family has food. The woman suggested that there should be no homeless or hungry people in America, because of its great wealth. She related that in one American city out west, she tracked down 600 organizations that ostensibly had as their main objective, assistance to the poor. She went to some of them, requesting donations for the hungry in Ethiopia, and received much sympathy but no money. In the United States, some of us live lives of isolation from our neighbors. We can be generous as a nation … there is none more so. However, when it comes to our own personal pocketbook, there often is a stuck zipper that we can’t seem to loosen.

Observe the honest, mark the upright; those at peace with God have a future.

St. Ephrem, of the fourth century AD, was ordained a deacon late in life. He was called to the diaconate at around the age of 65 and died but three years later. Yet, he was a prolific apologist for his faith most of his life in Syria … and, we might add, quite a musician, composing countless hymns. This humble man who did not feel worthy to be ordained to the priesthood is today honored as a Doctor of the church.

(To be continued from my book, Psalms of God’sTenderness, ISBN-13: 978-14208212)

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