Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the pre-Easter season of Lent. I will continue to post about Leviticus from Jacob Milgrom’s Continental Commentary volume. But once a week I will also post a reflection on the Psalm that is the lectionary reading for the upcoming Sunday.
That is Psalm 32 this week.
The Psalm starts out with two beatitudes, each of which says in a different way that it is a blessing to receive forgiveness from God.
Then the Psalmist tells something of a life experience. He kept silence about his guilt, it seems. But this had an impact on his well-being. He groaned. He felt a wasting in his bones. He felt as though he was dehydrating in the heat of a summer sun. He felt that the hand of God was heavy upon him.
Then he stopped living a double life. He became transparent and opened up to God about his faults. He was immediately relieved. He knew God had forgiven him. He no longer had to pretend perfection that he knew he did not have.
He felt a new security. It was as if he stood on a high place where even Noah’s flood could not reach him. Thinking back on his own experience, he counsels others to not be like he was. Don’t be like a stubborn horse or mule that has to be broken, he advises..
He issues the opposite of the beatitude with which he began: “Blessed are those whose wrongdoing is forgiven.” Now he says, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked.”
This is how the Message Bible puts it: “ God-defiers are always in trouble; God-affirmers find themselves loved every time they turn around.”
This is not one of those Psalms that ask why the wicked sometimes seem to have no trouble (see Psalm 73). This is a Psalm advocating repentance. From his own experience, the writer knows the pain of trying to cover up his failings. From his own experience, he knows the relief that came with penitence.
So it fits the beginning of Lent. Lent is a season of penitence. In our church we end up contemplating the suffering of Christ and will probably sing on Good Friday the spiritual, “Sometimes it causes me to tremble. . .” Far from being the smug and judgmental Christians of the secular caricature, Christians who participate in Lent seek to see and feel themselves as needing forgiveness and finding renewal.