One of the common clichés of social development is "Give a person a fish, and they eat for a day, but teach them to fish, and they eat for a lifetime." While there are kernels of truth in this statement, in reality the concept falls far too short. We are led to wonder more broadly, "But who has access to the pond?" In other words, those who work for "righteousness and justice for all the oppressed" are committed not only to relief and development, but also to the important and enduring ministry of advocacy.
As we receive the abundant grace and sustained presence of God, who is "slow to anger" and "abounding in love," we respond with love in action that calls for justice in the relationships and structures of society. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." In other words, the praise of the Psalmist is intended not merely to anesthetize us from the pains of daily existence, but also to remind us of our responsibility to advocate alongside our neighbors in the pursuit of justice and peace. As a result, we are called not only to address the various needs of the present moment, but also to restructure the edifice which generated such need in the first place.
Gracious God, as we celebrate the ways you comfort and confront, may we be tormented by the ideal, yet set free by your grace. Amen.
Psalm 103 (NRSV)
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children—
18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.
21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul.