A common thread in todayís Scripture readings can be found in the many ways that God is present to us. First of all, He is present in the words spoken by Jeremiah the prophet and then Paul illustrates the Divine presence in all acts of authentic love and finally Luke speaks to us of Godís presence in the person of Jesus.
But there is yet another voice to be heard in todayís liturgy, a voice we often tend to overlook. I refer to the voice of the psalmist.
We should keep in mind that the psalms are the earliest prayers of our tradition. They are the prayers that Jesus learned as a child.
Some of the psalms are inspired songs of praise adapted for use in public worship. Some are thanksgiving prayers expressing confidence and gratitude but nearly one third of the 150 recorded psalms are classified as laments.
Frequently, people who were suffering misfortune, illness or persecution went to the temple or to another holy place to make a formal request to God for deliverance. Though sometimes angry they remained driven by faith and hope.
These requests were known as lamentations, they were personal but they were heard by all who happened to be present. By way of response the psalmist often received support from fellow worshipers.
Some of these prayers were remembered and collected and used in future public liturgies. The concept of "response" was maintained and is reflected in our own liturgy of the Word.
Todayís psalm, Psalm 71, is an example of a lament expressed in the words of one who has seen and experienced a lot of suffering but wishes to testify that through it all they have been sustained by God. The message is: Donít let misfortune turn you against God for He alone is your rock, your fortress.
Can you not imagine Jesus praying this very psalm in the Garden of Gethsemane?
How wonderful it is to think that the second person of the Blessed Trinity would adopt the words of a simple person like you or me and make of them his own prayer.
All of the psalmists, and it would seem that there were many, including King David, clung to the conviction that God, in time, not in eternity but here on earth, in time, would right all wrongs and that the just would enjoy the peace, the "shalom" that was their due. This moment in history would focus on the coming of the Messiah, the political and religious leader anointed and supported by God.
But, in the meantime, some good people suffered and some evil ones prospered and this called forth many a lamentation from many a psalmist.
In those days, in the absence of Christian revelation there was no real sense of heavenly reward or punishment. Death was said to carry you to "Sheol," the other world, some kind of neutral existence just this side of non-existence
So it was that the ancient Jews looked for everything to be settled here on earth and for this they turned to a God who was Creator, Source of Life, enthroned in heaven and yet dwelling in the Temple of Jerusalem. Their God was both demanding and forgiving. He was merciful and gracious, inspiring confidence and respect and most importantly, committed to Israel by the covenant or contract made with Moses.
The coming Messiah would be His fully accredited representative.
And then there was Christmas!
"He came unto his own and his own received him not but to all who did receive him, who believed in him, he gave power to become children of God, heirs of the Fatherís eternal kingdom."
From that moment on the playing field was no longer measured by birth and death but by eternity. To those who trusted Him, Jesus said: "Your reward will be great in heaven." No one had ever said that before!
What music to the psalmistís ears! How much richer their words of faith and confidence when, having been passed down to us in this very Church, they can be uttered by we who are baptized into the messianic Christ of eternal justice.