Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 55) transports me to a multi-theater conflict creating the suffering of anguished hearts and troubled thoughts, terror and horror, fear and trembling. What have these enemies done to provoke David’s outpouring of such streams of cold sweat supplications? You can’t help but smile if you read the first few verses of this Psalm and remember times you transported two young siblings in the back seat of a car. Try transposing their whining tones of voice into the complaint paraphrased in verses 2 and 3: I’m telling! . . .He’s talking mean to me! . . .Tell her to quit staring at me like that! This is what was so troubling to the songwriter; the insurrectionists were giving him the evil eye and trash talking him. These verses might help us be a little more patient and gracious toward those 6-year-old whiners.
But these rebellious adversaries brandishing sharp remarks and long-held looks of hostility were not the only ones compelling the shepherd king to whine at God in tattle-tale mode. David was also experiencing betrayal from his own unnamed companion and close friend, his covenant partner. These two had apparently walked together in sweet fellowship, but the bosom buddy’s buttery sweet talk of friendship had been blanketing a Benedict Arnold style treason. The smooth words camouflaged a war-mongering heart. Many of us can relate to how powerful the pain is when we are betrayed by a friend, when we are let down by someone we had considered a brother or sister in the faith. I’d venture to guess that most of us spend far less emotional and spiritual energy worrying about terrorists at home or abroad than we do these homeboys turned hostile. How does David respond to these twin foes of known adversary and false friend? Unfortunately, he mirrors for us the age old cultural extremes in response to enemies: fight or flight. First he chooses a flight pattern: O if I only had wings, I could fly away to a safe refuge; I could flee to a remote desert hideaway, far from the storm. Amen! And then, after a few more tattling verses, he chooses a fight strategy, only he is playing corner man to the great boxer in the sky. He is Angelo Dundee preparing Ali, if not for the Thrilla in Manila, then the Mano a Mano in Amman, or the Great Fights of the Golon Heights. At any rate, he calls on God to afflict some punishing body blows, to bring them down, to shorten their days to a half-life, to send them reeling with a surprising knock-out uppercut.
This Psalm is instructive to me; it tells me a lot about the predicaments we face so often, and the forks of false dilemmas we straddle. Run and hide or hit ‘em with our best shot (or get Someone else to hit ‘em for us). Seems to me that Jesus added some extra verses to this Psalm through his life and death, through the way he engaged his enemies. He neither flew away like a butterfly nor stung like a bee. He entered the ring carrying a cross, a cross that had the power to transform enemies into friends. Both of the world’s ways, running and gunning, are essentially giving up on the stunning Way of Jesus. The Way of the cross is the courageous Way. Which in my book makes Jesus the Greatest. I’ll leave you with a quote from Ali’s old friend Howard Cosell. The words seems pertinent: There is a still higher type of courage – the courage to brave pain, to live with it, and to still find joy in life.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.