By Laurel Dykstra
For Christians, and perhaps preachers especially, there is immense pressure to approach scripture with a foregone conclusion, to find and preach some Good News, whatever contortions to the integrity of self or text that might require.
Psalm 72 is a royal psalm, which prays that the king be endowed with divine justice. Some of the most enduring and life-giving qualities of the other than human world are invoked alongside tribute and service from wealthy and distant nations and a repeated concern for the poor, needy and weak. The lectionary conveniently skips the verses about the king’s enemies licking the dust.
Whether the psalm was first intended as sincere, cynical or something in between, how it is heard and heard again, changes as kingdoms rise and fall.
Coming to us through the lectionary on the feast day of the Epiphany we cannot help but read it as messianic. On that day when “wise” visitors demonstrate the consequences for the vulnerable of seeking salvation in the centre of power; when strangers with gifts find themselves with ringside seats at a battle of kings—infant vs tyrant; the prayer, Give the king your justice, Oh God, contrasts their reigns.
Aspects of the psalm resonate with the struggles I experience trying to practice Christian discipleship in a time of ecological crisis:
- The profound desire of individuals and movements for champions and heroes to be the ones who do good, bring justice, show the way and find solutions.
- May the mountains yield prosperity for the people. The acknowledgment that that human wealth is necessarily connected to the land and the complex power relations involved in extraction and industry.
- Deep concern for justice, for the needy, the poor, the weak –but failure to critique power structures or economic systems. Kings and capitalism as the source of justice.
- The compelling image of the sun and moon as signs of the endurance, steadfastness, faithfulness we desire. May righteousness flourish and peace abound until the moon is no more.
- The beauty of ecologies that humans are a part of and the acknowledgement of water as the source of life on earth. Like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
And the question that the psalm asks when kings and princes, leaders and rulers have failed us, at this time of deep climate injustice, this time of violation of the precious blood of human and creature:
What is salvation?
Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.