VOCATUS – ATQUE – NON – VOCATUS – DEUS – ADERIT

Carl Jung (1875-1961) had these words carved in Latin over the front door of his house in Zurich, Switzerland.

They also hang on a plaque just inside the back door of my home between the main hall and the kitchen. It is a spot I pass many times every day. Often I notice this little grey plaque with its seven simple but profound words. Sadly, equally or perhaps even more often, I walk pass this spot without noticing the saying that hangs on the wall.

The words are thought to have originated with the Oracle of Delphi speaking to the Spartans when they were planning to go to battle against Athens in the fifth century Peloponnesian War. The words might equally find their source in the somewhat earlier Psalm 139, a portion of which we will read in church this coming Sunday.

If you find yourself in a church this Sunday that follows the readings assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary, when you hear the Psalm read, you may miss the possible connection to the words that hang just inside my back door. This Sunday you will hear an oddly edited portion of Psalm 139. If I understand the Revised Common Lectionary correctly, not in any way an assumption to be taken for granted, Psalm 139 receives curious treatment as it is appointed to be read by the Lectionary.

It appears that, of the twenty-four verses in Psalm 139, the Revised Common Lectionary only ever assigns twenty verses to be used in public worship. Four times over the course of the three year cycle covered by the Revised Common Lectionary, we are instructed to read verses 1-6.  Three times we read verses 13-18. Only once do we read verses 7-12 and 23-24, the section which this week’s reading skips. Not surprisingly the Lectionary omits any mention of Psalm 139:19-22 which the Psalmist pleads with God:

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
   and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
   and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
   And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
   I count them my enemies.

It is not hard to see why these verses might be judged somewhat less than palatable for Sunday morning worship. But if we simply follow the readings as assigned for Sunday worship, we will never really come to grips with this Psalm. We will be spared the difficult, but potentially fruitful challenge, of having to wrestle with the complexities of this piece of biblical poetry in its entirety as it has been passed down to us over the centuries.

It is particularly puzzling that verses 1-6 are seen to be so important that they are selected for reading four times in the three year cycle. While verses 7-12, which seem to me to be the core of the Psalm, appear only once with verses 23-24 tacked on to the end.

I am pretty sure I lack the exegetical and preaching skills to do justice to Psalm 139. But, I am committed to allowing the entire passage to speak and so feel compelled to at least try to read the passage as a whole. It seems a tiny bit dishonest to boldly proclaim the parts of Psalm 139 I find luminous and appealing, while relegating other verses I find distasteful to the outer darkness of liturgical silence.

We will see how I get on with this arduous project when Sunday arrives.

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