Psalm 17

There may be no greater cry of the heart than the cry to be heard.

The text of Psalm 17:

Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea;
    listen to my cry.
Give ear to my prayer–
    it does not rise from deceitful lips.
May my vindication come from you; 
    may your eyes see what is right.

Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
    though you test me, you will find nothing;
    I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.
As for the deeds of men–
     by the word of your lips
I have kept myself
     from the ways of the violent.
My steps have held to your paths;
     my feet have not slipped.

I call on you, O God, for you will answer me;
     give ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show the wonder of your great love,
     you who save by your right hand
     those who take refuge in you from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
     hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who assail me,
     from my mortal enemies who surround me.

 They close up their callous hearts,
     and their mouths speak with arrogance.
They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
     with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
They are like a lion hungry for prey,
     like a great lion crouching in cover.

Rise up, O Lord, confront them, bring them down;
     rescue me from the wicked by your sword.
O Lord, by your hand save me from such men,
     from men of this world whose reward is in this life.
You still the hunger of those you cherish;
     their sons have plenty,
    and they store up wealth for their children.
And I– in righteousness I will see your face;
     when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

*  *  *  *  *

Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea.

There may be no greater cry of the heart than the cry to be heard.

When we are ignored, when our voice is silenced, we perish.  We cease to exist in the world of the other.  We cease to exist in the heart of the other.  We perish from the communities in which we live.

And if God should not hear, if the universe be silent and uncaring, who could bear it?  It would be as night without dawn.

The plea for God to hear is universal.

We shouldn’t have to ask.  God tells Jeremiah that God knew him while he was yet in the womb.  The psalmist says there is nowhere we can flee from God’s spirit.  Jesus tells us to call God abba.

We shouldn’t have to ask.  We should be as confidant as a child with their parent – except we all know there are times our parents become so absorbed in other matters they do not hear.  Or see.

And so the scriptures are filled with the cry for God to hear, for God to see, for God to turn his attention from heaven to earth – and to my little spot on earth.  Our heart quakes at the thought that God may have turned away.

O that we had the confidence of a beloved child.  Hundreds of pages over thousands of years declare to us God’s abiding concern, but we doubt.  We fear.

Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea;
     listen to my cry.
Give ear to my prayer–
     it does not rise from deceitful lips.

David cannot resist adding the claim that his cause is righteous.  I have no reason to doubt him – no reason other than my experience that a pure heart is a rare thing.  There is always the slightest whiff of self in our noblest deeds.  It feels good to think we are generous; you cannot escape it.  There is a payoff for us in acts of kindness.  There is a reward even in sacrifice.  It ought not hold us back from good deeds – it just adds a proper dose of humility.  Only God is pure goodness.

But there are times our cause is just.  There are times our prayer is pure.  And yet here is that whiff again – the suggestion that God has to listen because we are righteous.  Ah well.  It is our frail nature.

God listens anyway.  God sends rain on the just and the unjust.  It is not my purity that opens heaven to me – it is Christ who has done that.  I just dare to take advantage of the door he opened.  I will ask in his name, as he taught me.

Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
     though you test me, you will find nothing;
     I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.
As for the deeds of men–
     by the word of your lips
I have kept myself
     from the ways of the violent.
My steps have held to your paths;
     my feet have not slipped.

I wish it were so simple.  But I know that the passion of a grave injustice suffered leads naturally to such claims of innocence.  It helps to make clear the anguish the crime has wrought.

It is part of what’s wrong with us as a species. Crimes against the innocent are considered more vile than those against people we think are not.  The rape of a prostitute is still a rape, but we are far less outraged than if it is a young mother – even though the woman may herself be a young mother.

God is not swayed by the poet’s claim of innocence.  God knows the poet’s heart.  And if it is David, we know something of his heart as well.  But God is not on the side of the innocent; God is on the side of those in need.  Only one among us could every truly say he deserved God’s aid, and Jesus refused to do so.  It is gift.  Given freely.

I call on you, O God, for you will answer me;
     give ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show the wonder of your great love,
     you who save by your right hand
     those who take refuge in you from their foes.

The poet has at last found his way to the true basis of prayer: God’s character not our own.  God is a God who saves – and therefore God is a God who hears.

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About dkbonde

Pastor, Los Altos Lutheran Church
This entry was posted in Psalms, Reflections on the Scriptures and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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