Losing Cynicism in the Sanctuary

Scripture Focus: Psalm 73.1-3; 16-17
      1 Surely God is good to Israel, 
         to those who are pure in heart. 
      2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; 
         I had nearly lost my foothold. 
      3 For I envied the arrogant 
         when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

      16 When I tried to understand all this, 
         it troubled me deeply 
      17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; 
         then I understood their final destiny.

Reflection: Losing Cynicism in the Sanctuary
By John Tillman

Psalm 73 begins with its conclusion: Surely God is good to the pure in heart. But the psalmist goes through disillusionment and cynicism before getting there.

The psalmist is distressed by disparity, to the point of despair. The wicked grow rich, healthy, wealthy, and (at least in their own eyes) wise. He begins to think God uncaring and unjust, sinking in a spiral of cynicism. He describes this as a trap he almost “slips” and falls into.

But there is more than one trap. The psalmist says the arrogant rich are also “on slippery ground.” (Psalm 73.18-20) Wealth that works like a charm in this life is, for many, a curse and a trap. (Proverbs 17.8)

We can be snared by both traps. Wealthy as we are, we may think that other wealthier ones are guilty of greed as we hoard our own resources. Poor as we are, we can be in denial of the blessings that God has given us and guilty of the same selfishness as the wealthy. All of us can be guilty of taking rest, ease, and luxury at the expense of others. How can we escape these traps of hubris, greed, jealousy, and despair? 

The psalmist loses cynicism in the sanctuary of the Lord. It is there he sees that all humanity’s unpaid debts to each other are ringing up interest in the Lord’s accounts and we will not avoid his justice. 

We mistake wealth in this world that will pass away as being more desirable than wealth in God’s kingdom that will not pass away. Tricks of perspective can make large things seem small and small things seem large. 

For the rich and the poor, worship of God is the doorway through which we see with a different perspective. This is why James speaks so harshly about treating the rich and poor equitably in God’s house. (James 2.1-13) This is why Jesus was zealous for God’s house, expelling the money changers. (John 2.13-17; Mark 11.15-17; Matthew 21.12-14)

God intends our worship to reflect heaven, not earth.

It will be in worship that we gain a better perspective to help us see things rightly. 
May the Holy Spirit confront us about equity and justice. 
May we question our justice, not God’s. Are we being prudent or greedy? Are we being responsible or cruel?

May moments of worship overwhelm our cynicism and reveal a perspective of eternity.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle
Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 25  (Listen – 2:50)
Psalm 73 (Listen – 2:56)

Read more about Greed and Envy
The trap the psalmist escapes is to mistake stored up justice for absence of justice.

Read more about In Denial about Greed and Power
We still don’t fully admit or understand the destructive nature of the sins of greed and power.

Greed and Envy

Psalm 73.2-3
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
   I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
   when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Reflection: Greed and Envy
By John Tillman

The psalmist, is thrown into doubt and pushed to the limits of his understanding by the inequality he sees in the world.

Inequality is a double-edged sword.

One edge is called envy. It is dulled from overuse and makes up for being unsharpened with a harsh, serrated edge. It saws at its victims rather than slices them.

One edge is called greed. It is sharp and quick, and drips with an anesthetizing coating. It slices to the bone, yet victims hardly feel pain. Most don’t realize they have been wounded or don’t realize its severity.

The psalmist is cut by the edge of envy and the wound grieves him. How can God be just if wicked people are so prosperous? How can God be caring if those he loves suffer? But as he pursues God in worship, he comes to understand the other side of the sword.There are traps here for all of us.

The trap the psalmist escapes is to mistake stored up justice for absence of justice.

The wealthy who ignore the poor are not escaping justice and we are not responsible or qualified to carry out justice.  We are not to eat the rich, but the bread of life.

The trap for the wealthy, is to think that we are not that wealthy, or that the poor are not that worthy. After all, those richer than we are should do the heavy lifting of caring for the poor, shouldn’t they? And too often we think that poor is a synonym for lazy. We think we are prudent, not greedy—responsible, not cruel.

(And as to whether the poor are undeserving, there could not be a more apt description of us, when Christ gave all he had to cancel our debt of sin.)

Psalms like this have, at times, been used to shush protesters. “Don’t be so angry. Just preach the gospel and rely on God.” This pie-in-the-sky kind of cold comfort ignores one of the frequent commands of scripture—that the powerful must care for the weak and God will hold them to account.

May we humbly seek the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is in Christ that we will find the compassion to overcome our cynicism and the generosity of spirit to overcome our jealousy and greed. And may we never doubt God’s goodness based on earthly evil.

When men doubt the righteousness of God, their own integrity begins to waver. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. — Psalm 103.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 29 (Listen – 5:05) 
Psalm 73 (Listen – 2:56)

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Read more about In Denial about Greed and Power
If there is anything that can still be shocking in today’s world, it is that we still don’t fully admit or understand the destructive nature of the sins of greed and power.

Read more about Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts
Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, that will surface during fasting.

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