In spiritual life, especially in the city, it can be so tempting to judge superficially. After all, there’s so much going on around us, so many activities, so many demands: emotional, professional, environmental. Life is simply…MUCH. Sometimes a snap decision is needed, sometimes even a snap judgment, but as today’s divine office demonstrates, we need to be so very careful when applying superficial thoughts to people or even ourselves.
“I will put a curb on my lips when the wicked man stands before me. I was dumb, silent and still. His prosperity stirred my grief.” (Ps. 39)
At first glance, the psalmist seems caught up in a typical Old Testament encounter: the good (himself) vs. the evil (the wicked man)… but that line at the end, “His prosperity stirred my grief…” invites a deeper degree of meditation. Is there perhaps some envy at the root of this encounter? Is the psalmists problem really with the wicked man’s wickedness? or is there something internal at work? …a personal sense of lack?
The psalm goes on,
“O Lord you have shown me my end, how short is the length of my days.”
Something about the wicked has spurred the psalmist to thoughts about his own mortality! Later, having dived further into his meditation, the inspired author turns to God:
“And now Lord what is there to wait for? In you rests all my hope.” Bringing his inner turmoil before the Father, the psalmist finds a sense of resolution and peace, ending out the morning’s excerpt, “I will thank you [Lord] for evermore; for this is your doing. I will proclaim that your name is good, in the presence of your friends.”
I don’t know about you, but as a man, as a disciple, and perhaps particularly as a young adult, I’m tempted to assign so much blame for my own suffering to, “the wicked,” whoever that happens to be at a given moment…. but like the Psalmist, if I ask the question, “There’s something deeper here, isn’t there?” The answer usually comes back as a resounding, “Yes,” and it usually has to do with some fear, some anxiety, some hurt particular to me. This doesn’t negate that another person may be “wicked,” or that an external situation may be truly “unjust,” but it certainly clarifies my perspective.
Another angle is this: If I’m responding to my own hurts, my neighbor probably is too. One of the most prophetic things I’ve ever heard from a friend is this, “90% of what we see people doing is a reaction to pain.” The number might be a little high… but not much. I hear the truth of that observation in the confessional and in so many pastoral encounters. Our fellow Washingtonians are all hurting in various ways… All of us are, ultimately, grappling with the effects of sin and death/mortality in our lives… something to think about when we are tempted to make those snap decisions and judgments that – I know – make up much too large a part of my own life.