Lent V, Year A
Lent V, Year A
Is that all there is? There has to be more to life than this. Is there not a deeper meaning to life than what we see or experience at the physical level? In today’s psalm, as well as in our other lessons, the answer to such questions is that yes there indeed is more; yes there is more than what we see or experience at the physical, material level. God created us in God’s image—therefore, God has given us a soul and has breathed his Holy Spirit into us. In the Hebrew language, the word nefesh refers to the soul or spirit or living body. For the Israelites, body and soul were one in life and death. As Christians, we too believe they are one, since we believe in the resurrection of the body to eternal life.
Today’s psalm reflects this language of the Spirit. The psalmist has a profound insight into the nature of the human condition. This psalm is one of the fourteen psalms that are given the title “A Song of Ascents.” These fourteen psalms were thought to be sung as pilgrims made their way to and from the Jerusalem temple to celebrate the important Israelite festivals. Psalm 130 is a very appropriate text for us during the Lenten season—since it reveals to us the true meaning of repentance and forgiveness.
The psalmist begins with the first three verses—obviously feeling the full weight of his guilt and sin, when he cries to the only One who is able to help him in this horrible state; crying from the very depths of his soul, his spirit he pleads with God to hear his confession and repentance, saying: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.” Is this not one of the deepest longings within every human being? Do we not all long for something beyond superficial, shallow routines of life? Do we not all reach a point in our lives where we despair of fulfilling the meaning of our lives by materialism and consumerism? Do why not all cry out for meaning with the psalmist because we know that there is more to life than the physical world? If we are indeed created in God’s image; if we are given a body as well as a soul/spirit—then we shall ultimately long for a life with depth, with meaning beyond what is physical, temporary, superficial and shallow. It is often when we reach the point of crisis in our lives—like the psalmist—that point where our sin and guilt drive us to despair that the only One whom we can turn to is God. God is there with us and for us—awakening our souls to a deeper meaning for our lives.
In verse three, the psalmist gives us the deep insight that before God we all are condemned and guilty because of our sin. The picture the psalmist gives us here is that of a law court. God is like a judge and prosecuting lawyer. All the evidence is revealed—every human being is guilty of violating God’s laws—there is no one, except Christ who is innocent. No one, except Christ who is able to keep God’s law perfectly. If God, says the psalmist, “should mark iniquities,” should operate only on the basis of our ability to keep the law—then none of us are able to stand innocently before God. True confession and repentance, when it does its work within the depths of our souls, helps us to reach this point of crisis.
The following story out of the life of Indian Christian, Sadhu Sundar Singh, is a good illustration of true confession and repentance and its profound consequences.
One day Sundar ran off to the bazaar to spend on some sweetmeats the pocket-money which his father had given to him. On the way he saw an old woman, famished with cold and hunger, while he had every comfort. When she begged for some help from Sundar he gave her all the money he had; but the thought of her misery in the bitter cold haunted him as he went back.
Therefore, when he reached home, he ran to his father and told him all about it, saying impulsively that unless she was given a blanket she would surely die of cold. His father put him off, saying that he had often helped her before, and now it was someone else’s turn to assist her in her need.
But this did not satisfy the impetuous boy in the least, and when all his entreaties were in vain, he stole five rupees belonging to his father and rushed back to the beggar-woman intending to give the money to her for a blanket. But his conscience pricked him on the way, and without giving her the money he returned to the house, miserable at heart, and hid the five rupees. Very soon his father missed the stolen money and asked Sundar whether he had taken it.
The young boy denied it, telling a lie on the spur of the moment. His father at once believed him; for Sundar had always been a truthful lad. But though he had been able to escape from punishment by thus telling a falsehood, his conscience tormented him so much all through the night that he could not sleep. Early in the morning he went to his father and confessed both his theft of the money and the lie which he had told about it. He then gave back the five rupees.
He tells us how, by this act of confession and repentance, the burden of anguish was at once removed. The relief was so great that he was ready joyfully to bear whatever punishment his father might decide to inflict on him for his wrongdoing. But instead of punishing him, his father took the young lad in his arms and said, with tears in his eyes: “I have always trusted you, my child, and now I have good proof that I was not wrong!”
The father then gave to his son the joy of helping the poor woman and all was forgiven. 1
So too, it was for the psalmist, for the Apostle Paul, for Martin Luther, and a host of other people of faith down through the ages: as they confessed and repented of their sin before God, they were able to discover that God is not only A Just Judge, but also A Loving Parent who offers us forgiveness, mercy and love. We don’t have to remain in the crisis of our despair; there is release and freedom from the heavy weight of our guilt and sin. There is grace, forgiveness and unconditional love for us all—thanks to God acting on our behalf through Jesus Christ.
The psalmist then in verses four to eight speaks from the depths of his soul by responding to God’s forgiveness by saying that the result of God’s forgiveness is that it is now possible for those who are forgiven to revere God; to wait in hope for God; to experience God’s redeeming activity. This reverence for God is a deep respect for God and a deep desire to value God as more important than anything or anyone in life. If God is Number One Priority in our lives, then it follows, says the psalmist, that we will wait and watch for God with hope from the depths of our souls. We will pay more attention to God’s activity in our lives and in our world so that we will be even more alert than guards who stand watch at night to warn others of the enemy and to wait for the safety of morning light.
There were once two kings, one amiable and the other quarrelsome. The quarrelsome king finally waged a war and was captured by his opponent.
The more amiable king saw that the other king was afraid, but he thought that he should be taught a lesson. So he sentenced the captured king to death. Of course, the captured king begged for his life.
Well then the amiable king gave him one chance. “Tomorrow you will be given a jug of water full to the brim. You must carry it from one end of main street to the other without spilling a drop.
The next day he started out. The king had given orders so that on one side of the street the crowd booed and on the other side they cheered. And the executioner followed behind to remind him of his fate if he spilt any of the water.
The prisoner succeeded. Then when asked what he had answered those mocking him, he said he hadn’t had time because he had to be careful about his jug. Then when asked about his response to those cheering, the prisoner said that their acclamation did not help. He had to concentrate on his jug.
“Don’t seek the applause of others with cheap victories, and don’t worry if they mock you. Keep watch over your foundation and destiny.” 2
So too, as people of faith, forgiven and created in God’s image, we are not to place our deepest value in the passing things of this life, the physical, temporary things. They ultimately will not satisfy our deepest longings of the soul, of the spirit. During Lent we are to stand on alert, to stand guard and watch over the deep longings and deepest needs of our lives and our souls. It is thanks to God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s love that our souls’ deepest needs are satisfied. It is trusting in Jesus who has redeemed us; who has purchased our freedom from the slavery of sin, death and the powers of evil; it is thanks to his life, sufferings and death on a cross that we are redeemed from our sin.