Psalm 49:1-12 (NRSV)
Verse 1Hear this, all you peoples; give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
Verse 2both low and high, rich and poor together.
Verse 3My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
Verse 4I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.
Verse 5Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,
Verse 6those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Verse 7Truly, no ransom avails for one's life, there is no price one can give to God for it.
Verse 8For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice
Verse 9that one should live on forever and never see the grave.
Verse 10When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.
Verse 11Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they named lands their own.
Verse 12Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.
The Book of Psalms is a songbook, as we see in today’s psalm, which is dedicated to the Koharites, professional temple musicians, and calls for harp accompaniment.
While some psalms address “why bad things happen to good people,” this one seems rather to ask “why good things happen to bad people.” The psalm-singer riddles why we should fear the injustice of the wealthy and powerful, answering with the sobering proverb: humans don’t live in splendor long; “they are like the animals that perish.”
I could easily identify with the poor or the underdog in this song. But with my privileged position in this affluent country, am I not one of the wealthy? That is even more sobering.
What can any of us do? The psalm-singer says nobody can pay God an adequate price for our lives. But we believe that Christ has done this for us through his death and resurrection, and that he leads us to a life of service and justice for others.
God of grace, lead us to trust in you, and to sing your songs and do your will on earth, as in heaven. Amen.