As for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek … when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God … (Psalm 73:1-4; 16-17b).
Confession is good for the soul. Here, right in the middle of our Bible, is a voice of compelling honesty and eternal relevance. The words remind us of a pulsating world of tempting possibilities and “sleek bodies.” It is as if the Psalmist is watching one of our modern sensual commercials.
Everywhere we turn, there are good-looking models driving, swimming, drinking, and using whatever the marketers want us to believe will make our lives meaningful. If we purchase what they are peddling, our existence will be complete. If only.
But with biblical wisdom comes complete, holy honesty. As the writer of the above scripture testifies: “my steps nearly slipped”(73:2). He, like us, was gravely tempted to believe that the kind of lifestyle he witnessed in these manufactured scenes of contentment and artificial constructs of easy living represented reality. The lovely faces and happy smiles came close to tricking him in to believing that what he saw constituted an attainable goal that he (and we) somehow deserved.
The billions of dollars Madison Avenue marketers spend to study how we think and what makes us respond positively to manipulative stimuli has been, for them, money well-spent. But Psalm 73 awakens us again to the truth: there is more to a meaningful life than the inauthentic constructs of media campaigns. Nor is it necessary for us to look at others with envy. Instead, there is a time-tested remedy. And it was the saving grace for the psalmist almost taken in by the seductive world of the rich and famous.
“…I went to the sanctuary of God…” (73:17). He doesn’t say what he did there. His awakened perspective comes, according to the psalm, by simply being there, in the presence of others struggling with similar circumstances, real insufficiencies, understandable anxieties, and natural uncertainties. Perhaps it was the very nature of this community of fellow strugglers, this place of refreshing truth, that brought insightback to his sight.
Too often, what we see is not what we get. And what we want is not even close to what we need. Like the psalmist, going to church and being with others in a shared space of honesty and open appraisal is a redemptive opportunity that returns us to ourselves and realigns us with what is holy. Probably, this is why Luke makes certain we remember this about Jesus: “…he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom…” (Luke 4:16). If it was good enough for the psalmist—and for Jesus—it is for us. Let us go to church and, in doing so, bring with our presence an openness to truth and an honesty about our condition.
We then are prepared for new perspectives on reality, solid commitment to truth – and the vast, sacred mystery of Easter Resurrection. I look forward to being with you in all of God’s good work!
“Something wonderful happens when you plant a seed.”—Wangari Maathai