Scripture: Psalm 119: 97-104 (NRSV)
Oh, how I love your law!
It is my meditation all day long.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is always with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn away from your ordinances,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
How can you not love a set of Holy Scriptures, especially the Psalms, that present all sides of the human condition? In contrast to all the calls for humility and compassion for others, Psalm 119 is a lengthy poem exemplifying and glorifying a love of God's law. His motive, we can hope, was pure, but his obedience to God's commandments subtly morphs into a form of arrogant righteousness and self-congratulation that claims more wisdom, understanding, and proper behavior than the poet's teachers, his elders, and above all, his enemies. He sees himself as the ideal Israelite, and he exults in his pride of accomplishment and perfect religiosity. In doing so, he stands in opposition to Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets who call Israel (and us) to task for just such an attitude and the unjust behavior it spawns. Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18. 9-14, stands in that tradition, reminding us that there is good and not-so-good (including the capacity for evil) in everyone.
The truth is that all of us can fall into that pattern of self-pride and self-congratulation very easily, rejecting it intellectually but actually practicing it in daily life. We all are capable of morphing our love of God, our devotion to God's commandments, our commitment to God's mission into a sense of superiority to those who so obviously fall far short of ourselves. A partial antidote is found in Psalm 130, among scores of other citations that could be made: "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord hear my voice! Let your ear be attentive to my supplications! If you, O Lord should mark iniquities, Lord who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope."
Lord, as I go about my life each day, help me to keep in check the tendency to set myself above others, particularly those who disagree with me. Help me to do a daily critique of my behavior and my assumptions, so that I may seek a healthy balance between self-confidence and self-centeredness, between rejection of evil in others and the potential of evil in myself. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Minister of Visitation for the First Church of Christ Congregational UCC in Glastonbury, Connecticut