This paraphrase gathers up the Psalmist’s distress at his desperate circumstances. Like Josef K in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, he finds himself an innocent victim pitted against implacable accusers. Unlike Kafka’s hapless K however, the Psalmist knows where to turn, who to address, who will listen to his cries for help, and who will come to his aid.
The Psalmist’s initial lament is a litany of woe, punctuated by reflection on the wider effect his misery might have on others. This is not ‘a burden shared is a burden halved’. It is a concern that he might drag others down.
He admits he is not blameless before God, but asserts that his very passion for worshipping God has made him a target for ‘reproach and jest’, ‘vulgar songs about my fate’. The experience of Jeremiah and Job comes to mind. This suffering servant of the Lord turns in prayer to the only one who can save him. That God can help him he is sure. He is determined, insistent that God hears him. His pleas become ever more urgent as he recalls again the indignities heaped upon him ‘they gave me vinegar to drink to quench my burning thirst’. His anger asserts itself, wishing his torturers punishment in like measure, indeed blotting out. That would be justice indeed.
The Psalmist returns to plead with God ‘Let your salvation come to me, and lift me up on high’. Is it a change of mood that prompts the final two stanzas of praise to God, or is it the conviction that God has indeed heard him and will act?
Echoes of the psalm are found in all the gospels, especially John’s, and also in Romans. The life of faith involves coping with suffering. The Psalmist’s experience of suffering instructs our lives.
Gracious God when we face suffering as each of us has to, come close to us and stay with us. Let your Spirit comfort us and lead us on to a future that is secure in you. Amen
The Rev’d John A Young, retired minister National Synod of Scotland , member Giffnock URC