Saturday, 31 March 2012

Psalm 118(119) Tau: All we like sheep have gone astray!



Today's is the final part in this Lenten series on Psalm 118, as we come to the twenty-second stanza starting in Hebrew with the letter Tau.

Longing for salvation

And it is a particularly suitable ending point as we come up to Holy Week, for its theme is the longing for salvation.

Cassiodorus (c485-585) summarises the stanza as follows:

“With the Lord's help the twenty-second letter has been reached, in which the longing of the band of saints to draw near to Christ is commensurate with their proximity to the close of the psalm. The whole composition is relevant to the Lord Saviour's coming. The devotion of the faithful awaited it with an indescribable longing, so that He might deign to summon back the lost sheep through the kindness of His love; for when they begged that their prayer should draw near to the Lord's sight, they revealed that the presence of sinners is exceedingly far from Him, for only things cleansed by the purest holiness draw near to Him.”

The shepherd seeks the lost sheep

The most memorable verse of this stanza is the last, echoed several times in the New Testament:

Errávi, sicut ovis, quæ périit: quære servum tuum, quia mandáta tua non sum oblítus.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek your servant, because I have not forgotten your commandments.

The New Testament of course, puts this verse in the context of Christ’s mission to convert and redeem sinners. St Luke 15: 4-7 for example says:

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Everyone’s autobiography

The psalmist’s story of falling into sin is surely the story of us all.

In the opening verses of the stanza the psalmist pleads for God to hear him and grant him the necessary grace for salvation:

169 Appropínquet deprecátio mea in conspéctu tuo, Dómine: * juxta elóquium tuum da mihi intelléctum.
Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in your sight: give me understanding according to your word.

170 Intret postulátio mea in conspéctu tuo: * secúndum elóquium tuum éripe me.
Let my request come in before you; deliver me according to your word.

He states too that once he has that necessary grace he will surely be moved to rejoice, as we do at the Easter Vigil:

171 Eructábunt lábia mea hymnum, * cum docúeris me justificatiónes tuas.
My lips shall utter a hymn, when you shall teach me your justifications.

He has committed himself to God, he states, and now waits, a waiting symbolized by this Lenten period, with desperate longing for salvation to be realized for him personally:

173 Fiat manus tua ut salvet me: * quóniam mandáta tua elégi.
Let your hand be with me to save me; for I have chosen your precepts.

174 Concupívi salutáre tuum, Dómine: * et lex tua meditátio mea est.
I have longed for your salvation, O Lord; and your law is my meditation.

Almost but not yet redemption

In fact Easter is that season that should most clearly bring home to us the almost but not yet nature of our redemption – despite the assertions of fundamentalists, we cannot, in this life claim to be saved!

As St Bellarmine points out, the idea that we have all strayed from God and suffered the consequences of it applies whether or not we have personally sinned, for through Adam’s sin we have all been banished from Paradise:

“Banished from my country, and still an exile, through the sin of my first parents, that extended to the whole human race, "I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost," by seduction, and not like the devil, the roaring lion, who fell through malice.”

St Bellarmine points out that through our baptism the door to heaven has been reopened:

"Seek thy servant," for though you have already partly sought and found him, inasmuch as you justified him from sin, and reconciled him to God”

Yet still we can fall again into sin, and must seek reconciliation anew, confident in the success of our petition made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross:

“…yet the lost sheep is still to be sought for, inasmuch as he expects the redemption of his body, so that he may body and soul be brought to the heavenly mountains, and those most fertile pastures, where the ninety-nine that did not stray had been left; and I confidently ask for this salvation of soul and body, "because I have not forgotten thy commandments."

I pray as we move into this Holy Week, that we can all make our own the statement that we have not forgotten God’s commandments, and therefore wait in joyful hope.

And I do hope you have found this series of interest and use…and if you have any comments, reactions or suggestions on any of the posts in this series, please do let me know on or offline.

Tau

169 Appropínquet deprecátio mea in conspéctu tuo, Dómine: * juxta elóquium tuum da mihi intelléctum.
Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in your sight: give me understanding according to your word.

170 Intret postulátio mea in conspéctu tuo: * secúndum elóquium tuum éripe me.
Let my request come in before you; deliver me according to your word.

171 Eructábunt lábia mea hymnum, * cum docúeris me justificatiónes tuas.
My lips shall utter a hymn, when you shall teach me your justifications.

172 Pronuntiábit lingua mea elóquium tuum: * quia ómnia mandáta tua æquitas.
My tongue shall pronounce your word: because all your commandments are justice.

173 Fiat manus tua ut salvet me: * quóniam mandáta tua elégi.
Let your hand be with me to save me; for I have chosen your precepts.

174 Concupívi salutáre tuum, Dómine: * et lex tua meditátio mea est.
I have longed for your salvation, O Lord; and your law is my meditation.

175 Vivet ánima mea, et laudábit te: * et judícia tua adjuvábunt me.
My soul shall live and shall praise you: and your judgments shall help me.

176 Errávi, sicut ovis, quæ périit: * quære servum tuum, quia mandáta tua non sum oblítus.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek your servant, because I have not forgotten your commandments.

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