Thursday of Lent V from “According to Your Mercy”

From According to Your Mercy by Fr. Martin Shannon

Thursday of Lent V
Psalm 55

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” v. 22

Commentators on the Psalms as early as Athanasius in the fourth century have observed that they give utterance in prayer to every conceivable human sentiment and emotion. Psalm 55 expresses one of the most universal among them: the longing to run away from all pain and suffering. It is the most natural reaction in the world, and the poet captures the desire in language of flight and escape: “O that I had wings life a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Ps. 55:6). What one of us has not imagined successfully escaping the “raging wind and tempest” (8) of life’s sometimes crushing circumstances? If it were possible, would we not “make haste to escape” (Ps. 55:8, BCP) and remain a safe distance from all that disquiets us? In the face of his fear and trouble, the poet simply imagines himself to be somewhere else, but in the end he realized that this is not to be. He cannot hide. His fervent prayer, therefore, is that God not hide from him (1).

What causes the Psalmist such grief and anguish? We come to realize it is not the usual pain of suffering at the hands of an enemy. Were that the case, he says, he could have borne it (12). No, this is the sharpest hurt of all: the betrayal of a friend—and not just an ordinary friend but a “familiar friend,” a “companion,” what Psalm 41 tenderly calls a “bosom friend.” The psalm reveals that theirs was a friendship with much shared in common, built upon a mutual love for the things of God (14). No wonder the blow leveled against the psalmist strikes so deep in his soul. No wonder he would like most of all to run from it. It is the destructive blow of treachery and deceit.

These verses describe the treachery experienced by Jesus at the hands of Judas, a treachery so central to Christ’s passion that the apostle Paul summarizes the evening of the Lord’s Supper as “the night when he was betrayed” (1 Cor. 11:23). There were many other horrific events that night, but they were all set in motion by the bitter kiss of a friend.

The verses of Psalm 55, therefore, go back and forth between describing the betrayer’s faithlessness and God’s faithfulness. “There are friends who pretend to be friends,” says the writer of Proverbs, “but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). It is to this eternal Friend that the psalmist turns in his confusion: “He who is enthroned from of old” will hear me (Ps. 55:19). And his hope will not be disappointed. In the end, though he has been tripped up by the treachery of a friend, the Lord will bear up his burdened soul, and the souls of all who put their trust in him (22).

From the Fathers
If you believe that God makes provision for you, why be anxious or concerned about temporal affairs and the needs of your flesh? But if you do not believe that God makes provision for you, and for this reason you take pains to provide for your need separately from him, then you are the most wretched of all men. Why even be alive or go on living in such a case? “Cast your care upon the Lord, and he will nourish you.” Isaac of Nineveh

Father, let me never despair so much in my feelings of betrayal that I grow numb to the betrayer in my own heart. May my soul never be dried from tears of repentance for the false kisses I have given you.

Meet the Author: Fr. Martin Shannon, Community of Jesus

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