Summary: Year C Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany February 11th, 2001
Year C Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany February 11th, 2001
Lord of the Lake Lutheran Church
Web page http://lordofthelake.org
By The Rev. Jerry Morrissey, Esq., Pastor
Title: “The way of the righteous and that of the wicked.”
This psalm is set as the introduction, prologue, preamble, preface to the entire Psalter. It is classified as a “Wisdom Psalm” because it sees life as presenting two basic options, two ways, two fundamental approaches to all of life: the way of the righteous and that of the wicked, of those who conform to God’s purpose, revealed in both creation and the Torah, and those who ignore it. Obedience to God’s revealed plan results in happiness. There is no middle ground, no third way. Following God’s way can present choices between what is good and what is better, but the fundamental choice is unambiguous, either or. What shapes a person’s thinking shapes a person’s life.
This psalm is didactic poetry, finely crafted but without meter, not meant for singing so much as for private reflection. When it was composed cannot be determined. Presumed to be postexilic, it is really timeless and not related to any period or event in history as such. Its structure is easy to discern. Verses one to three, extol the solid foundation of the righteous person; verses four and five decry the unsubstantial life of the ungodly and verse six summarizes the fate of the two ways. The doctrine of the “two ways” treated here finds a striking parallel in Jeremiah 17:5-8.
In verse one, “happy those: Lit, “Happy or blessed is the man. The Hebrew, ‘ashre, is difficult to translate in one word. It is an exclamation rather than a noun or adjective. Some stabs at translating is are: “Oh, the blessedness (or happiness) of…,” “Congratulations to the one who…,” “How rewarding the life of…,” “To be envied or admired is the one who…” It is a joyous exclamation and an enthusiastic observation of fact, not a wish. The state of bliss is the result of right behavior, the end product or by-product of living a life in conformity with God’s revelation. “Man,” as used here, includes women and children. In the Hebrew mentality, part of a man’s happiness is his family or corporate personality, who share in his blessings as he shares in theirs.
The counsel of the wicked…way of sinners…company with scoffers: These three phrases – lit, walking with the wicked, standing with sinners, sitting with scoffers- are in synonymous parallelism and mean essentially the same thing. It is possible, if the text is not pressed too hard, to see a progression into evil. First one merely “walks” with evil; then one stops and “stands;” then one “sits” also the Hebrew word for “lives” or “stays” with evil.
The wicked: Originally the Hebrew word, reshaim, denoted, men who has been proven guilty of a particular charge. In the Psalter it means those who are enemies of God, Israelites and Gentiles alike. These humans have their own principles and maxims, their own rules of life, opposed to God’s. To walk in their counsel is to follow their advice and ways.
Sinners: The Hebrew hattaim signifies those who miss the mark, like a bull’s-eye. The Greek word for sin, hamartia, has the same basic meaning or deviate from accepted standards, not once or accidentally, but habitually. To stand in the way of sinners is to accept their way of life.
Scoffers: The Hebrew word, lesim, means those who are self-sufficient, who are so proud that they cannot accept instruction from anyone. They know it all and no one else knows anything. So they mock all others as “stupid.” To sit in their company is to make light of God’s revealed ways, character and law and to identify with their thinking.
In verse two, “the law of the Lord”: By now this refers to Sacred Scripture as they knew it. “Law” is too narrow a translation for Torah. The word means all of God’s revelation, his will, purpose, instruction, and guidance proceeding from his fidelity, love and mercy. The written words reveal, open one to, are the vehicle for, the living experience and relationship with God. As such it is not distinct from God’s revealing presence in creation. Rather it clarifies that presence and co-exists with it harmoniously.
Their joy: The Scripture as defined above actually embodies joy, delight and produces that effect in the recipient.
They study: The Hebrew hagah is used of a lion studying or growling over its prey or a dove cooing. It means “to muse on,” “to ponder,” “ to meditate.” In other words, a person whose preoccupation, focus, concern is the will of God revealed in Scripture enjoys the reviving and cheering power contained in it. It gets “unlocked” by meditation and, if followed and lived, becomes the determining and effective disposition of a truly happy life.