Who are we? Who was he as one of us?
by Phyllis Tickle
Psalm Reading: Psalm 82
For Sunday, August 15, 2010: Year C - Ordinary 20
I have never understood the Psalms, which statement is of the “take a number and get in line” kind, I realize. More to the point, though, I have never quite understood my own relationship with the Psalms, which circumstance is made even more ironic by the fact that in my old age I have come more and more to treasure them, to seek their company, to fade beneficently and willingly into their cloudy, misty tangle of mixed theologies and opacities. Wrapped in their confusion of human emotions and eternal perspectives and in their maddening mix of moral positions and mortal necessities, there is somehow just the glimmer…the enticing, seductive glimmer, like a will-o’-the-wisp…of the grand paradox which is the doorway between time-bound faith and timeless being.
The Acid Test
In observing my aging self as it veers closer and closer and more and more frequently toward the Psalms and their reading, it interests me as well to observe that my growing predilection is matched in reverse by the diminishing affection for the Psalms that occurs in maturing children.
Perhaps, I think, the acid test of the profundity of a religion text is whether or not its appeal is greatest among those who are embroiled in the throes of life or of those, like the elderly and the young and the cloistered, who live external to or sideways of those exigencies. Time slips its terrible, restrictive traces, and the soul meanders more freely toward home.
Already in Love
All that having been said and duly acknowledged, it is still more than passing strange to me that I should come this week to write of Psalm 82, for of all the Psalms, it was ever the one that held me in its glorious and inestimable thrall. At both ends of my life, it has been my familiar cathedral, though as a child I was more taken by its opening verse than by its sixth and seventh ones. Like Wordsworth’s innocent trailing clouds of glory as it enters time, so I, free of adult theology and fear, fantasized that divine council as surely and as clearly as if remembering it from past acquaintance.
I saw God seated in the center and highest seat, lording over the lesser gods who ranged from unattractive to beautiful beyond measure, but all of whom did Him obeisance, even as I knew they should. Years later, as I matured, the opening scenes of Job made perfect sense to me, for I was already in love with that mighty council of God and the powers and the gods.
“You Are Gods”
But then I grew up, which for a Christian child means that I wandered—or was led, perhaps—away from the inexplicable toward the Gospels. They too, of course, are inexplicable, but there seems to be some inherent need in us to try without ceasing to reduce them to orderly explicability. God knows, we’ve certainly spent centuries of our time—especially the last five or six of them—in trying to do just that very thing. In that struggle, I have been no less guilty or less occupied than has any other Christian soul, except…
…except for those great, most magnificent, over-arching, and joy-producing verses of all canonical verses: John 10:34-36.
The people are about to stone Jesus. The stones are, in fact, in their hands, when he asks them for which of his actions they desire to kill him. Not for his deeds, they tell him, but because he dares to claim himself as God. And his answer?
“Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “you are gods”’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’– and the scripture cannot be annulled—can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”
The Hardest Question
Ahh…there it hinges, does it not? All of christology and, deliciously enough, all of anthropology, as well. Who are we? Who was he as one of us? And most glorious–how like him who knew so well the truth outside of time–to answer with that fragile wisp of sacred steel that is Psalm 82. And while ‘who are we and who is/was he’ may be for all of time the hardest questions, it is also true, as he said, that the scripture cannot be annulled.
God be blessed for all His gifts, but this day most assuredly for this, His most beguiling gift of paradox.
Phyllis Tickle is the award-winning author of many books and the founding religion editor at Publisher’s Weekly. Tickle is an authority on religion in America and a much sought after lecturer and writer on the subject. She is a lay eucharistic minister and lector in the Episcopal Church, the mother of seven children, and, with her physician-husband, Phyllis makes her home on a small farm in Lucy, Tennessee.