Thoughts for Thursday 27th August 2020

Psalm 26:1-8; Jeremiah 14:13-18; Ephesians 5:1-6


Thursday 27 August


I always find it odd when we’re asked by the Lectionary to read most, but not all, of a psalm such as the 26th. Is there maybe something about the remaining 4 verses that those who compile the Lectionary don’t want me to see? And so I read those verses as well. Not, though, that there does seem to be any obvious reason for their omission. The portion that appeals most to me today is from verse 6: ‘Lord, I wash my hands to show that I am innocent.’


This is a reference to the injunction in Exodus 30:19-21 that priests, on pain of death, are to wash their hands before they approach the altar in order to make a sacrifice. It’s something that, although he was not a Jew, Pontius Pilate did (see Matthew 27:24) to absolve himself of any guilt he might have by the death at his hand of an innocent man; and it’s something Jesus’ brother, James, uses when at James 4:8 he writes, ‘Wash your hands, you sinners!’


I’m not at all sure about taking this psalm at face value, however. And that’s for the reason that Jesus’ disciples didn’t bother to wash their hands – even before they ate! And Jesus himself is criticised for it (see, for example, Matthew 15:2). While some Pharisees and teachers of the Law thought it was wrong for Jesus to associate himself with such seemingly ‘worthless (see Psalm 26:4) people’, a large part of Jesus’ mission, it seems to me, was to demonstrate how those who did ‘wash their hands’ could be far from innocent.


In this context, I liked when the Scottish folk-singer, Alastair McDonald, sang in Busby Church a few years ago. He spoke about how someone had once told him that they didn’t go to Church, because the Church was full of hypocrites. And Alastair’s response was to say to them, ‘Well, why don’t you come along then. One more won’t make any difference!’


There is a huge spiritual danger for us, I think, if, as the Psalmist, we too begin to think that we are better than anyone else.


Moving to our New Testament reading, the bit about using language that is ‘obscene, profane or vulgar’ (verse 4) reminds me of the following Billy Collins poem:



Not only in church
and nightly by their bedsides
do young girls pray these days

Wherever they go,
prayer is woven into their talk
like a bright thread of awe

Even at the pedestrian mall
outbursts of praise
spring unbidden from their glossy lips.


Let us pray:


(John Henry Newman, "Fragrance Prayer")


Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance wherever I am.

Fill my heart with your Spirit and your life.

Penetrate my being and take such hold of me
that my life becomes a radiation of your own life.


Give your light through me and remain in me in such a way
that every soul I come in contact with can feel your presence in me.

May people not see me, but see you in me.


Remain in me,
so that I shine with your light,
and may others be illuminated by my light.


All light will come from you, Oh Jesus.
Not even the smallest ray of light will be mine.
You will illuminate others through me.

Place on my lips your greatest praise,
illuminating others around me.


May I preach you with actions more than with words,
with the example of my actions,
with the visible light of the love that comes from you to my heart.


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