Summary: Year C. Fourth Sunday after Pentecost July 1st, 2001, Psalm 16 Title: "When the leaders succumb to careerism."
Year C. Fourth Sunday after Pentecost July 1st, 2001, Psalm 16
Title: ¡§When the leaders succumb to careerism.¡¨
This is a psalm of confidence. Its author shows a deep familiarity with prophetical, sapiential, and liturgical traditions, making it impossible to fix a date of composition. Although we can say that he was a Levite, most probably a priest, living in the early post-exilic period. Like most psalms - despite the fact that it may have been originally composed for and sung in the Temple - its general applicability to many life situations make it a good prayer for anyone facing a crisis of faith.
The structure is fairly easy to discern. In verses one to four, are a call for help, giving the reasons why; verses five to eight, express confidence in Yahweh; and verses nine to eleven, extol the blessings of having confidence in the Lord. Textual problems, especially in verses two to four ¡§a¡¨, have caused some variation in interpretation, depending on which textual witness is accepted. They do not, however, affect the main message in any significant way.
In verse one, keep me safe, O God: The psalmist is sure he has come to the right source to pray for protection. It becomes clear in the next few verses that he prays for two protections: 1) from an immediate threat, possibly death; and 2) from a general, pervasive threat, that is, syncretism.
In you I take refuge: The Temple was a place of asylum and the psalmist is a Levite. Yet, he resists the temptation to consider the Temple as his place of refuge. Instead, he acknowledges that it is God alone.
In verses two to four, The psalmist first addresses the general threat of syncretism. Even some Levites, people who should know better and behave differently, had introduced into their lives some idolatrous forms of worship, especially fertility rites and sexual excess ¡Vall in the name of ¡§religion.¡¨ Some falsely believed and in order to justify their sexual behavior, that the worship of Yahweh and the worship of other gods, we, today, would say ¡§values¡¨ or ¡§priorities,¡¨ were ¡§compatible.¡¨ Yahweh was ¡§good¡¨ for some things and these other gods were ¡§good¡¨ for other things. The psalmist would have none of it.
You are my only good: He affirms the first commandment. He does not need other ¡§gods or goods¡¨ as securities to fall back on if Yahweh does not appear to see things as he would like him to. There is no ¡§other,¡¨ no plan¡¨B,¡¨ when it comes to worship.
Worthless are all the false gods of the land: Many alternative translations, interpretations and emendations have been proposed for verses two to four. The translation of these verses given here is as good as any. The general sense is that the psalmist has fallen for none of the propaganda about the benefits of mixing religions. That is tantamount to ¡§watering down¡¨ the strength of belief and commitment to the one God. These ¡§false gods¡¨ cannot deliver.
They multiply their sorrows: What the psalmist says about the consequences of false worship is true of everyone, but he seems to have his fellow Levites particularly in mind. As the religious leaders and Temple officials they are supposed to set an example. Instead, they have become followers, followers of lesser gods and goods. They have even gone to the point of offering ¡§blood libations¡¨ to these false gods, something the psalmist finds especially abhorrent. They ¡§multiply their sorrows,¡¨ implying that their foolish attempts to ¡§increase and multiply¡¨ their families and the fertility of the land by engaging in fertility rites have backfired into increased misery. They have fallen into the classical trap for a religious official. Concerns with career issues and flight into sensuality to relieve the boredom involved in the repetitiveness of church work and worship have become their ¡§gods.¡¨ The psalmist, on the other hand, has neither offered sacrifice to any other god in a cultic act nor, in effect, in his non-cultic conduct. Having dispensed with the temptation to take the ¡§covering all bases,¡¨ serving two or more masters, approach to life the psalmist moves on to his own approach ¡V an affirmation of integrity and confidence in God alone.
In verses five and six, my allotted portionƒv or cup or inheritance: These are terms traditionally used to describe the distribution of the land. The Levites had no land apportioned to them. How ironic that in a culture where landed property was essential for full membership, the levitical priests possessed no property. Where there is irony there is revelation. The Levites were supposed to serve as a reminder that only God possessed the land, they were merely tenants or, as Lev 25:23 puts it, ¡§strangers and sojourners.¡¨ The other Levites are reneging on their responsibility to offer worship to God alone. Their very material livelihood is based on it. Yet, they have fallen prey to the very temptation their lifestyle was supposed to encourage the rest of Israel to avoid. When the leaders succumb to careerism and sensuality the people have even more excuse to do likewise. What was true of Yahweh¡¦s priests Numbers 18:20: I am your portion and your inheritance, was equally true of his people.