From the Psalms:
O that today you would listen to his voice!
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 95:7b (NRSV) – March 8, 2013.)
Today we are asked by the Episcopal Church’s Lectionary to use Psalm 95 as the invitatory at the Daily Office of Morning Prayer. Whether we recite the whole psalm or the abbreviated text we call The Venite, we say these words: “Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!” (as the Prayer Book renders them). Lent is a season that calls us to pay attention to God, to be involved in God’s world, and to be aware of God’s presence.
The year I was in residence in Berkeley, California, at Church Divinity School of the Pacific working on a Certificate of Anglican Studies, there was a homeless man who habitually hung out on Euclid Avenue. One often encountered him along the stretch between the seminary and the north gate of the Cal Berkeley campus where there are several businesses including bars and restaurants. Although he would frequently be there panhandling, just about as often one would find him asleep in one of the non-business doorways, his long legs stretched out onto the sidewalk. I can remember stepping over his legs on more than one occasion. When he was awake and begging, he was usually respectable in his asking for handouts, but too often for comfort he could also be rude and offensive. He was clearly disturbed, possibly schizophrenic and also possibly dangerous, as I learned when I tried to engage him in conversation one day. Given that he was of a similar age to me and given the things he yelled at me liberally sprinkled with abusive obscenities, I suspect that he might have been a Vietnam veteran. I never tried to talk with him after that, but if he was panhandling when I passed by, I would give him whatever change was in my pocket, usually around a dollar; I must confess, however, that just about as often (or perhaps more often) I would find some excuse to cross the street before reaching him. What I never did was try to get him help, to find him shelter, or food, or medical care . . . nor, it seemed, did anyone else.
Today on the Episcopal Chuch’s sanctorale calendar is the commemoration of Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, an Anglican priest and British army chaplain during World War I. A poet, Studdert Kennedy, wrote a poem entitled Indifference which touches on the admonition of Psalm 95:7b and my Berkeley experience:
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,”
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.
I’ve no idea what became of that man on Euclid Avenue in Berkeley, California . . . but I know who he was.
“O that today you would listen to his voice!”
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.