Year A: Epiphany 4
January 30, 2011
The connection of Psalm 15 with the readings from Mic 6:1-8 and Matt 5:1-12 is quite proper. The psalm begins with the questions: ‘O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?’ (v. 1) That is precisely the issue considered in both the other readings.
Psalm 15 is frequently described as a liturgical psalm, one that has been used in worship. The question at its start is about who can worship the Lord, or who does worship God. A similar question will be asked in Ps. 24:3 and, in fact, the middle section of that psalm (vv. 3-6) is closely related in form at least to Psalm 15.
The answer given in Psalm 15 to the question it poses is in terms of righteous behaviour. Much of this behaviour contrasts with the activities of the wicked in earlier lament psalms (Psalms 3-7, 9-14; cf. also v. 2 with Ps 1:1). The reference to the ‘tent’ and ‘holy hill’ in Ps 15:1 refer to the temple but also to any place where God is seen as present. One could compare the immediate conclusion to Psalm 14 where the psalmist sought deliverance from Zion (v. 7) and where they described the righteous as the companions of God (v. 5; cf. Ps 3:4). What the psalmist describes in Psalm 15 applies not only to the psalmist’s own life, but the plural reference in v. 5c indicates it also applies to ‘those who do these things’, those who follow in the steps of the righteous.
The list of activities undertaken by such a person is quite detailed in this psalm. It is arranged in a positive-negative pattern urging readers/hearers first to walk blamelessly, do what is right and speak the truth (v. 2) and then not to slander, do evil, or respond to a reproach (v. 3). It urges them to despise the wicked, honour those who fear the Lord, and to stand by an oath even to their own detriment (v. 4), but not to lend money at interest or take a bribe to pervert justice (v. 5). The mention in v. 4 of despising the wicked and honouring those who fear the Lord may sound like the promotion of self righteousness and the development of a narrow religious clique. The verse is open to such a view but what can also be stressed is the need to take a stance against corruption and injustice, as did the prophet Micah, and to stand by those who ‘do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God’.
The psalm ends by saying that those who do such things as it promotes, or don’t do those things which are abhorred, shall never be moved (v. 5c). Again such is not meant to be read as an expression of security against all that assails us. The sermon on the mount and the theology behind it did not protect Jesus from the plots of those whom he critiqued. What the psalm says is that those who do what it details are those who will have a secure foundation in life that can be drawn on in all circumstances. Their security is to be found in abiding in the Lord’s presence. The last line of the psalm (v. 5c) is meant to be read as both parallel to and a response to the question at the start of the psalm (v. 1).
Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:
Verses 1 and 5c could be used together as a call to worship at the start of the service
O LORD, who may abide in your tent?Lines from the psalm, with appropriate adjustment, could also be used is the prayer of confession. For example:
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
Let us worship God.
For the times when we have not walked blamelessly,Finally, lines from the psalm can be modified to form an introduction to the closing blessing.
nor done what is right
nor spoken the truth from the heart,
Lord have mercy.
On those occasions when we have slandered with the tongue,
or done evil to friends,
or taken up a reproach against neighbors
Christ have mercy.
In circumstances when we have not honoured those who fear the LORD,
nor stood by an oath even to our hurt,
nor worked for justice,
Lord have mercy.
Walk blamelessly, and do what is right,Old Testament reading: Micah 6:1-8
speak the truth from the heart,
do not slander with the tongue,
do no evil to friends,
nor take up a reproach against neighbors;
oppose all that is evil and honor those who fear the LORD,
stand by an oath even to your hurt;
and seek justice for the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved
and the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Spirit, be with you.
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