(A Song of Ascents. A song pilgrims or travelers sing as they journey to places of festival.)
1 I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven. 2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.
3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contempt. 4 We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.
I shrink a little when I encounter Scripture’s allusions to slavery, and I often put it aside without digging any deeper. But the prayer’s use of the word contempt caught my imagination.
First, let’s put the slavery issue into perspective. Its origin has nothing to do with inferiority of race or gender. It has to do with helplessness. It results when someone feels they are superior and have rights (because of who they are) other people do not have. Therefore, they have the right to consider those people as objects …. To do with what they please….own or sell even.
Contempt for the people who don’t share those rights is just next door. Many people in today’s secular society don’t take that step, merely wandering into arrogance. But most arrogant people regard other people who are not like themselves with contempt.
What gives us the right to regard others with contempt?
I’m reminded of a couple of television shows with atheistic scientist characters who assume their way of looking at things is the only logical way of looking at life, therefore, only science is the true ‘religion.’ Anyone who believes in a deity is clearly out of step, deluded, and not important. Literature has given its characters forms of a God-is-out-of-date attitude since the nineteen-twenties, but on a much more subtle level.
And I think that is why the word contempt leapt out at me. We have had enough contempt. Today’s Christian certainly know what it feels like.
Although this scripture puts it in the slave/master relationship common in that culture, we certainly understand the proudly accomplished/uneducated, homeless/wealthy, working/welfare, professional/civilian, or the proud people who insist they no longer need a deity/believer – many of us deal with the scorn that leads to contempt. (Politics is not even on the table.)
But no one gets off the hook.
Christians often scorn the people around them who, no matter what happens, or how bad things get, they just never catch on to the possibilities of a better way of living. They never quite get that they should seek instead of blame God.
The weak often scorn the strong because they assume the strong have been given more than they have or had more opportunities. Or the wealthy have been given their wealth rather than working and scratching for every penny, or they don’t fulfill their obligation to share their wealth.
Abusers of systems meant to help the truly needy, scorn those who work so hard for so little, and, in turn, scorn the government because it doesn’t take better care of all of us.
So, overcome, we turn to God: “God, I understand you feel no contempt for me. I know your very nature is love, and I put myself in your hands, trusting you, like a someone who trusts another person who has proven over and over his only concern is that their relationship is for the betterment of them both, we have had enough contempt. Show us mercy.”
And God does. When we fall into the trap and regard another with contempt, God will forgive when we repent of the error. When we encounter contempt, God gives us power to overcome it.
May we seek God’s face in the light of today’s world of sometimes quiet, subtle, and sometimes in-your-face contempt filled existence and begin to counterbalance it with God’s gift of mercy. It’s possible. After all is said and done, God has proven from the beginning, his mercy is unending, bountiful, and stronger than man’s contempt.
May we seek God’s mercy for all.