Psa. 129:0 A Song of Ascents.
1 “Often have they attacked me from my youth”
—let Israel now say—
2 “often have they attacked me from my youth,
yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed on my back;
they made their furrows long.”
4 The Lord is righteous;
he has cut the cords of the wicked.
5 May all who hate Zion
be put to shame and turned backward.
6 Let them be like the grass on the housetops
that withers before it grows up,
7 with which reapers do not fill their hands
or binders of sheaves their arms,
8 while those who pass by do not say,
“The blessing of the Lord be upon you!
We bless you in the name of the Lord!”
This psalm has such visceral imagery — someone with a “plowed” back. I wince to think of it and immediately imagine the scourging of Jesus and others in ancient times. The psalmist assures us (and then invites us to respond in echo) “Often have they attacked . . . yet they have not prevailed.”
But the moving part of the psalm for me is not this strong imagery at the start. Rather it is in the mutual blessing of the conclusion. Scholars see a parallel between the exchange of blessing in verse 8 with the blessing exchanged between Boaz and his reapers in Ruth 2:4. I love the image of that (even though in this psalm it is mentioned to highlight that such blessings won’t happen).
The reapers blessing the passers-by. The journeyers blessing the workers in the field. It is a beautiful scene to me. I suppose that this is particularly on my mind because I recently became acquainted with the writings of Catherine of Sienna – a Christian mystic and theologian of the Middle Ages. In her Treatise on Divine Providence she writes on God’s behalf:
“I could easily have created [humanity] possessed of all that they should need both for body and soul, but I intended that one should have need of the other, and that they should be my ministers to administer the graces and gifts that they have received from me. Whether they want to or not — they cannot help making an act of love.”
God has so ordered the world that you and I are interdependent, each upon the another. Others need me. I need others. The coffee in my cup arrives there at the end of a long line of people whose love and labor planted, harvested, transported, cooked, and delivered the coffee into my hand. I need them in more ways than I typically acknowledge. They need me too, though they might never know me in person. What a beautiful thing it would be if I could say prayerfully about them, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you!” And how beautiful it would be if they labored in love saying, “We bless you in the name of the Lord!”
As we head into the final days of our journey with Christ to Easter life provides many opportunities to practice this “act of love” to which Catherine of Sienna alludes. Every moment we are given opportunities to say to the cab-driver, to the checkout lady at the store, or the man shoveling what he hopes is this Winter's last bit of snow, “The blessing of the Lord be upon you.” So I’ll be rehearsing this litany from Psalm 129 in the days remaining before Easter so that, by God’s grace, it will become second nature to me.
It is so easy to believe the illusion that we are independent and self-sufficient actors and when we do that we preclude discovery of the truly good life which God intends for us. So we must learn to give thanks for our neediness, and to give thanks for the needs of the others — for it is in responding to those needs (ours and theirs) that we participate with God in the “acts of love” for which the entire universe was created.
Daily Collect: God of our many blessings — you meet us in the quotidian duties of daily life, and there you bless us. Help us who follow you to find the blessings you provide and turn in kindness to others so that we share what has been given to us. In Jesus' name — Amen.