Sunday, May 25, 2008

Vengeance on the nations

Here is a passage from Psalm 149, the third psalm in Morning Prayer for Sunday Week 1, which Holy Mother Church prays today on the Feast of Corpus Christi:

Exultabunt sancti in gloria laetabuntur in cubilibus suis
Let the faithful rejoice in their glory, shout for joy and take their rest.
Exaltationes Dei in gutture eorum et gladii ancipites in manibus eorum
Let the praise of God be on their lips, and a two-edged sword in their hand.
Ad faciendam vindictam in nationibus increpationes in populis
to deal out vengeance to the nations, and punishment on all the peoples;
Ad alligandos reges eorum in conpedibus et nobiles eorum in manicis ferreis
to bind their kings in chains, and their nobles in fetters of iron;
Ut faciant in eis iudicium conscriptum gloria haec est omnibus sanctis eius
to carry out the sentence pre-ordained; this honor is for all his faithful.
Why does our Mother the Church place this passage before us on such a joyful feast? Even in the Grail translation given here, it is a pretty violent and forceful passage. This "vengeance" is not just a police action here, to be carried out by priests or civil authorities, but "this honor is for all his faithful," which sounds like it means us ordinary 'citizens' of Israel.

I don't pretend to know the complete mind of the Church, which is the mind of Christ, but this is what I thought of this morning when I read this: The "two-edged sword" is the Word of God, as Paul says in Ephesians 6:17: "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." We "wield" that sword whenever we perform some act of charity or mercy, whether corporal or spiritual, especially acts of penance or reparation.

So how are such meek and mild acts to be seen as "vengeange...punishment...bind(ing) fetters?" These acts, individually and in concert with others, have an real effect in the world. God answers prayer. When people perform these actions, it brings healing, order, and peace to their own lives and the lives of those around them. This is a rebuke to "kings and nobles" who supposedly rule the nations and make us all miserable because it restores the Kingship of Christ to the disordered rule of corrupt human governments.

One might even argue that these prayers and works are the ordinary ways for peaceful change to happen when injustice reigns. I recall peaceful change during the Marcos regime in the Phillipines brought about dramatically by prayer and action of ordinary Philipinos.

This does not mean I oppose legitimate military actions by duly constituted governments if they are just and defensive. Those are not addressed here by this psalm.


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