Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are; they are not plagued like other people.
Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes swell out with fatness; their hearts overflow with follies…
Such are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
For all day long I have been plagued, and am punished every morning.
If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes; on awaking you despise their phantoms.
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you.
Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Indeed, those who are far from you will perish;
you put an end to those who are false to you.
But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge,
to tell of all your works.
Reflection – We have a great love for this psalm in Madonna House. The latter verses of it were set to music by one of our talented members, and we customarily use that piece on June 8, our Promises Day, the sentiments therein being so fitting for that occasion: ‘What else have I in heaven but you – apart from you I want nothing on earth, my body and my heart faint, but God is my possession forever…’
It is significant, though, that all of this rapturous acclamation of faith comes after a fairly grim depiction of life in this world. This is a psalm about things being as they should not be, a world that is unjust. The wicked prosper and grow fat; the righteous languish and die. Innocents suffer (although unlike the psalmist we may hesitate to glibly count ourselves among those innocent), while the arrogant and proud, the evildoers go their seemingly merry way unpunished.
And the psalmist is utterly perplexed at this. As are we, aren’t we? The world has not changed all that much in the past 2500 years or so since this psalm got written. Surveying the landscape of political and economic life in the year 2016, it is hard to avoid the impression that we are living more and more in a kakocracy (that’s fancy Greek talk for ‘rule by the worst’).
Psalm 73 calls us to make a deep act of faith in the face of such realities. When the world goes awry, as it is wont to do, when all the tings that should not happen, happen, and what really should happen never does, it is meant to be a powerful reminder to us, a goad to our hearts and minds, that in fact we are not meant for this world.
We are made for God, and the happiness of the human person does not lie in riches and power, in pleasures and vanities, but rather, ‘for me it is good to be near God.’ We leave the rich and the powerful, those who do evil in high places, to the judgment of God. I for one hope that He judges them with mercy, and that all of us can find our true home in the kingdom of heaven together.
For us who have faith now, though, we have to be utterly clear about it—happiness is found not in the goods of the world, but in the goodness of God and our intimacy with Him. That is the final answer to injustice and, shall we say, ‘income disparity’ in this world. Yes, we should work for a socially just order if and as we can, but let’s not get confused about this. We’re not trying to build the kingdom of heaven on earth. We’re trying to make a world, as Dorothy Day put it, in which it is easier for people to be good.
But this goodness, this beatitude that is our true goal, is not found in any economic calculus—everyone getting exactly the piece of the pie they deserve. It is found in the embrace of God and the intimate communion we have with Him, which far exceeds anything the psalmist could have imagined. It is our sharing in the very life of the Trinity, made possible for us in Jesus Christ, that is the portion and inheritance of all who believe in Him and who seek refuge in Him. And that must always be our perspective and our purpose as we move through this unjust and at time crazily confused world.