Psalm 14 / 15 Commentary
- Psalm 14 begins with a rather troubled question to God: “Lord, who will be welcome to abide in your tent?” The tent in the desert was the place where Moses met God face to face in Exodus 33.11. Later on, that tent became God’s Temple. In this psalm the pilgrim is thought to be pausing at the Temple precincts, preparing to a meeting with God. “Will you really welcome me, Lord?” s/he asks. God answers the questioner: “Here are ten areas of life that ideally prepare you for meeting me any sacred liturgical ceremony”. Five of the answers are positive (verses 2 and 4) and five negative (verses 3 and 5). Positive are “The ones who walk each day with integrity, speak truthfully from their heart and ever do what is just” … that’s verse 2; and “the one who is lowly in his or her own eyes, respects the people who show fear of the Lord in their lives, and who keep their word and their promises”, verse 4. The negative dispositions are about avoiding slander and abusive language or engaging in tittle-tattle… that’s in verse 3; and avoiding bribery or charging interest on loans; that’s verse 5.
- In our Sunday liturgy, this psalm, is a bridge between the first reading, where Moses commands that absolutely nothing be added or taken away from the commandments, and, the Gospel, where the Pharisees have added many many detailed pious rules and regulations. Our psalm, between these two, offers the psalmist ten basic practical ways of practising God’s law, before entering into public worship.
- For us today, the psalm invites us really to pause at our entry to our own place of worship. That’s an opportunity to examine and then re-affirm our own good dispositions as we meaningfully enter God’s sacred presence, perhaps blessing ourselves with a deliberate and reflective sign of the Cross, or even using holy water whenever that becomes appropriate again, as we recall our baptismal promises.
- Going back to that question to God, “Who may enter and abide in your tent, Lord?” we could perhaps recall the words of Jesus in John 15.5, “Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit!” That suggests that after our worship we may live fruitfully with the renewed good dispositions and actions that the psalm has stirred up in us, avoiding slander and abusive language or engaging in tittle-tattle in verse 3, and avoiding bribery or charging interest on loans; that’s verse 5. That bit about lending money could also mean for us to continue using our vote to challenge our rich government when it charges interest on loans for crops to poor countries, or when it hoards expensive weapons of mass destruction, when the fortunes spent there could be better used for health care at home and abroad, or for supporting us as we try to care for the influx of desperate refugees in their struggles for freedom for themselves and their families.
- In Psalm 14 we ask God a question but may not like the challenging answer. After meeting the Lord in love, we go out to meet the practical demands of love in the paths and opportunities around us. Psalm 14 offers a challenge right on our doorsteps!