From the Psalter:
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy,
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,
and of the derision of the proud.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 123:4-5 (BCP Version) – January 9, 2014.)
There’s a lot of talk these days about “class warfare,” most of it sheer nonsense. There is, it must be admitted, a growing class divide, an increasing gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of us. One might be tempted to write about that in light of this psalm’s reference to the “scorn of the indolent rich” and the “derision of the proud.” But, let’s face it . . . scorn, derision, contempt, and generally obnoxious conduct transcend class and other distinctions.
Prickly, disagreeable people come in all income groups, all races, all genders and sexual preferences, all religions . . . in any grouping of human beings you care to make. Indeed, everyone of us can be and are, from time to time, prickly and unpleasant. A lot of the time, we are completely oblivious to our own unpleasantness.
Driving past our town square yesterday afternoon, I noticed that a sweet gum tree had shed its empty seedpods, the hard, prickly fruit littering the snow all around the trunk. I rolled down the car window, pulled out my smartphone and took this picture (which came out a bit unfocussed). I thought I might use it as inspiration (or illustration) for a poem. And then this psalm came up on the lectionary rotation and the sweet gum was an obvious metaphor.
Unpleasant people drop little bombs of scorn, little grenades of derision all around them. They mar the world around them the same way the sweet gum tree’s seedpods mar the snow around the tree. But like the tree, they are unaware (or uncaring) of the damage they are doing and seem unable (or unwilling) to bend; they lack the flexibility to remedy the mess they create around them.
The psalmist is right to pray for deliverance from such folk . . . but more importantly we should pray for change in ourselves, that we not be prickly, contemptuous, and scornful towards those around us. Jesus once said to his listeners:
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matt. 7:3-5, NRSV)
In terms of the tree on square . . . deal with your own prickly seedpods of contempt, scorn, or derision before criticizing another’s.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.