As a deer longs for flowing streams

. . . so my soul longs for you, O God

The readings for today are: Psalm 42.1–11; Isaiah 28.14–29; Matthew 13.1–23.

Psalm 42 has to be read with Psalm 43. Only then do we get some sense of resolution and that after the third repetition of the refrain:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

(Psalms 42.5,11; 43.5)

The phrase translated ‘hope in God’ in the NRSV could have been translated as, ‘wait (patiently) for God’, and ‘my help’ as ‘my saviour’.  In fact, the Hebrew word behind ‘my help’ is Yeshu‘ah from which we get the name Jesus. At Advent we might relate the desperate yet hopeful waiting of the Psalmist to the mindset of the characters of the first chapters of Luke’s Gospel: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Anna and Simeon waiting in first-century occupied Palestine for the intervention of God. We might also think of all who continue to wait for justice and peace in circumstances of distress throughout the world today. Perhaps too we can all relate to the persistent sense of disquiet that can settle on any of us and sometimes for no obvious reason.

The Psalmist tries to deal with being downcast by talking to himself (I am assuming the writer was a man). They say, of course, that this is the first sign of madness but I seem to remember Martin Lloyd Jones suggesting it was the first sign of good mental health. I side with Lloyd Jones if only because I talk to myself more often these days than I ever did before.

Still, the Psalmist’s distress is not ultimately resolved until he can ask for (and, we assume, receive) the light, truth and guidance of God. God is big enough, the psalm seems to say, to receive our railings and complaints and, in due course, to send out God’s light and truth to lead us. In the meantime it is okay to talk ourselves into talking to God, without whom the darkness is dark indeed.


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