Peace–Confide in God: a Reflection on Psalm 31:9-16
The “Liturgy of the Passion” on Palm Sunday is designed to focus our attention on the suffering and death of Jesus. Psalm 31:9-16 is the core of the gospel in this regard. It is through David’s plea that we access Jesus’ dilemma and thus our own. The psalm’s poetic form parallels Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ suffering.
I invite you to identify with the “I” in the reading from Psalm 31. It is also possible to see Jesus, as portrayed in the Matthew 27 reading, in David’s poetic description of his own suffering. Psalm 31 is fundamentally an individual prayer for times of distress. It affords us an opportunity to confide in God one’s deepest concerns and needs. James Luther Mays writes, “The psalm has been called a model of prayer that is confident of being heard. This confidence informs the prayer from start to finish; to pray this psalm is to be led into and instructed in this confidence.”
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.” (Psalm 31:9)
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” (Matthew 27:11)
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. (Psalm 31:10)
And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” (Psalm 31:14)
Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. (Matthew 27:50)
Painful life circumstances for both David and Jesus, yet a complete trust in God the Father.
Trusting God is imperative for Christians. For it is through trust that we freely confide in God. Listen to this account of the significance of trust:
Not long before his death, Henri Nouwen wrote a book called Sabbatical Journeys. He writes about some friends of his who were trapeze artists, called the Flying Roudellas. They told Nouwen there’s a special relationship between flyer and catcher on the trapeze. The flyer is the one that lets go, and the catcher is the one that catches. As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go. He arcs out into the air. His job is to remain as still as possible and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air. One of the Flying Roudellas told Nouwen, “The flyer must never try to catch the catcher.” The flyer must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will catch him, but he must wait.
Psalm 31 is an appeal for God to catch us as we’re falling; for God’s favor to be known by the distressed. Stephen Farris, Professor of Homiletics at Vancouver School of Theology, writes “The final prayer of the psalm might become, with a few minor changes, the final prayer of the preacher: ‘Let your face shine upon your servant’ (v. 16).” Don’t we all need benefit of God’s gaze informing us with convincing confidence that all is well with our souls.
Many times, like David and Jesus, we feel that life is winning and is beating us down. We feel sentenced to death and beg for an appeal, particularly when we know we are innocent. I am encouraged that many of you are reading Just Mercy. It is a book about “appeals” and the cause of justice on behalf of the marginalized and the wrongly accused. According to Bryan Stevenson the author of Just Mercy, “By the end of the decade, some justices had become openly critical of the review that death penalty cases received. Chief Justice William Rehnquist urged restrictions on death penalty appeals and the endless efforts of lawyers to stop executions. ‘Let’s get on with it,’ he famously declared at a bar association event in 1988.” Oh how the appeal process of a death penalty conviction, of any conviction for that matter, is time consuming and expensive. But some, as in the case of Walter’s, although few, have their convictions overturned.
Receiving peace is a by-product of trust. Palm Sunday. Jesus was five days away from his death. He felt it and wrestled with its outcome. Jesus knew the Father’s will. He was sent to love people, heal people, teach people, confront people, befriend people, and die for people. Jesus knew he was God and that salvation was his to give. Salvation can be yours today. Let go and trust the One who knows you the best and loves you the most to catch you.
James Luther Mays, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Psalms (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox press, 2011), 143.
Taken from John Ortberg’s sermon, “Waiting on God.”
Stephen Farris in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 169.
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (New York City, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014), 78.