Psalm 34 is an acrostic. With a few exceptions, each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order from beginning to end. Why did the psalmist shape the poem this way? Perhaps it was a device to help people remember the song, to fix in their minds all that God had done. Or perhaps this scriptural ABC is a theological statement, representing the completeness of God’s care, the A to Z of God’s goodness.
The psalm begins with an amazing declaration: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (emphasis added). In times of joy and in times of sorrow, the response to God is blessing and continual praise. To “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), as Paul later commands, is not easy.
But perhaps trouble helps reshape our relationship with God. When the poet Wendell Berry writes that “the impeded stream is the one that sings” (“The Real Work,” Standing by Words: Essays, 205), he addresses the issue of finding our true way in the world and the role hardship plays in that. Without hardship, we never fully understand our dependence on God. In such a time, when the stream of my own life was impeded by illness and surgery and chemotherapy, I learned how to sing God’s praise.
Some of us have been spared from major illness, but sooner or later we will all have our share of trouble. Even the righteous face affliction. Even when we see no way out of suffering, God is still present—watching over us, saving us in God’s own way, loving us from beginning to end.
God of the love that is without beginning or ending, when the sorrows of the world and of my own life threaten to blind me to your presence, remind me that you are with me always. Amen.
Sometimes we can look back and see why challenging things happened to us, but this is not always the case. Job never fully understood his story but finally submitted his life to God in humility. In Job’s case, God restored with abundance. The psalmist also rejoices that although the righteous may suffer, God brings ultimate restoration. The reading from Hebrews continues celebrating Christ’s role as the compassionate high priest. Unlike human high priests, who serve only for a time, Christ remains our priest forever. A man without sight in Jericho knows of Jesus compassion and cries out for it, despite attempts to silence him. He asks Jesus for mercy, physical healing in his case, and Jesus granted his request because the man has displayed great faith.
• Read Job 42:1-6, 10-17. What are your happy and unhappy endings? How do you acknowledge both?
• Read Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22. When has an obstruction or impediment influenced your relationship with God?
• Read Hebrews 7:23-28. What distinction do you draw between sacrifice and offering? Which do you prefer?
• Read Mark 10:46-52. When have you been unable to see the blessing right in front of your eyes?
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