Psalm 43, Introit for Judica, The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Psalm 54, Psalm of the Day for Judica, The Fifth Sunday in Lent
O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might. O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves. Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will return the evil to my enemies; in your faithfulness put an end to them. With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
The Sundays in Lent take their names from the Latin translations of the Introit in the Divine Service. Judica Sunday, then, takes its name from Psalm 43, which has the verb judicare, “to judge” or “to vindicate,” as its first word. The appointed Psalm, 54, has the same verb in Latin, although in Hebrew it is different. No matter. As always, context is key. They deal with the same subject matter: vindication against enemies.
These are difficult Psalms to reconcile with the New Testament if we fail to look at them through the lens of the Incarnation of God’s Son and His work on the cross. Doesn’t Jesus tell us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? (Matt 5:44)? Doesn’t St. Paul tell us to give food and drink to our enemies (Rom 12:20)?
This Sunday begins Passiontide, the last two Sundays in Lent, which intensifies our focus on the saving work of Jesus on the cross. While Psalms 43 and 54 may (or may not) have been penned by King David as he justly sought vindication against the enemies of God’s chosen King of Israel, their primary referent is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who “was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isa 53:3).
In the Garden of Gethsemane, after Jesus had assented to His Father’s will to drink the cup of wrath against the sin of the world, He said, “See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matt 26:45). Moments later, Judas arrived to betray Him, hand Him over to the Jewish leaders, who took Him to the high priest, who sent Him to Pilate for judgment.
“Ungodly people” and “deceitful and unjust” men (Ps 43:1), yes, “ruthless men” (Ps 54:3), sought His life by bringing false testimony against Him and crying out for His blood. Pilate eventually assented, in spite of deep reservations that Jesus was truly innocent, but it had to be that way for the Suffering Servant, since the Innocent One had come to die in place of us guilty sinners.
But Jesus knew that His Father would vindicate Him, as had been prophesied through Isaiah: “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty?” (Is 50:5-9a).
In His Passion, Jesus "committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Pet 2:22-25).
"Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory" (1 Tim 3:16). Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Father vindicated the Innocent One on Easter morn, which means that for all of us who believe in Him and are baptized into His death and resurrection, we likewise will be vindicated before God's judgment seat on the Last Day.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane You suffered the agony of drinking from the cup of Your Father’s wrath against our sin, being betrayed by a kiss from one of Your own. Give us strength to remain awake as we now wait and watch for Your coming again, knowing that the Father’s wrath against us has been satisfied by Your bloody death and vindicating resurrection; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Prayer requests: Lynn Cottle, hospitalized; Alma Gause and Bessie Mahaffey, under hospice care.