21st March: II Kings 5.1-15; Psalms 41-42; Luke 4.24-30
The Psalter, the collection of prayer and praise which Christians share with the ancient people of God, the Jews, is an anthology, not the work of any single author. In the form we have received it the book of Psalms may evidence a singular editorial vision. Or it may be simply haphazard, like the kind of collection of favourite sayings and poems many of our grandmothers assembled. And though the Psalter is equally revered by a large swathe of humanity, differences in where one Psalm ends and the next begins have resulted in Jews and Protestants sharing one numbering system, Catholics another, and the Orthodox yet a third.
Psalms 41 and 42 (in most Bibles they are numbered 42 and 43) were clearly once a single Psalm, organised by a thrice-repeated refrain: ‘Why so downcast, my soul, why do you sigh within me? Put your hope in God: I shall praise him yet, my saviour, my God.’ (You might like to read these two Psalms in their entirety rather than in the chopped-up version used in today’s mass.) This Psalm has long been associated with Christian Baptism: the ‘deer that yearns for running streams’ is the unanchored soul longing for the paradoxical freedom of being submerged in, and then rescued from, the flowing river that at once refreshes us and asphyxiates us. The experience of countless generations directs our yearning to the particular water that flows from the side of our crucified Saviour, water which at once purges us of our sins and satisfies our deepest and truest longings. [cf John 4.13-14; 7.37-39; 19.31-37]