The Psalmist wrote….
When my mind became embittered, *
I was sorely wounded in my heart.
I was stupid and had no understanding; *
I was like a brute beast in your presence.
Yet I am always with you; *
you hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me by your counsel, *
and afterwards receive me with glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? *
and having you I desire nothing upon earth.
Though my flesh and my heart should waste away, *
God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary, Mar. 9, 2012, Psalm 73:21-26 [BCP translation])
Psalm 73 begins with a confession of green-eyed envy; the Psalmist acknowledges that he slipped and nearly stumbled away from faith because of his envy of the prosperous who “suffer no pain” and whose “bodies are sleek and sound.” This psalm brings in to sharp focus a complex and perplexing problems for persons of faith: the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. The Psalmist saw that “the wicked, always at ease, increase their wealth;” the wicked seem to be totally self-reliant and autonomous people. They seem not to need God; they are able to take care of themselves. It bothered the Psalmist that their lifestyle apparently works! Thus, he concluded that the attempt to lead a moral life is absolutely pointless; he despaired that it was in vain that he kept his heart clean and “washed my hands in innocence.” However, upon entering the temple he came to understand that the wicked wealthy will “come to destruction, come to an end, and perish from terror!” And so he comes to sing of his reliance on God, his strength and his portion for ever. At the end of the psalm, he vows to “speak of all God’s works in the gates of the city of Zion.” ~ In our society with such a deep division between rich and poor, between “the 1%” and the middle class, this psalm’s cries of envy and despair, I’m sure, speak to many, but I hope its reliance on the God of eternity, the God of hope speaks louder. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And having you I desire nothing upon earth.” The Psalmist, entering the sanctuary and changing his point of view from the worldly to the eternal, was led to see that no matter how things looked here in the temporal world his trust and confidence in God was the greatest gift of God’s grace, greater than any earthly wealth he could contemplate. A change of perspective, so that one views life through the lens of eternity, brings clarity of vision, both of the world around us and of our call to ministry in this world. It does not permit us to become embittered with green-eyed envy nor to sink into despair, but neither does it encourage us to accept wealth inequality and injustice with a promise of “pie in the sky by-and-by.” Rather, it admonishes us to “speak of all God’s works in the gates of the city.” And as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, “Mercy and truth are necessarily found in all God’s works” and “justice must exist in all God’s works.” (Summa Theologica, Question 21, Article 4) Psalm 73 in the Daily Office Lectionary during Lent echoes the exhortation of the Prophet Micah: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)