<A Psalm of David.>
1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
How does one prepare to enter the sacred spaces of the world, those places where the presence of the divine makes holy the profane? In many cultures there are a number of rituals one must undergo to purify oneself and prepare to enter the holy places of the world-those places where heaven and earth seem to meet. Even within the Bible there are places where there are actions that the priest must do to prepare for their tasks and in places like Leviticus 21: 17-21 and Deuteronomy 23: 1-6 there are limits placed upon who may enter the tabernacle or the temple to serve. Yet here, in Psalm 15, as is frequently the case in the Psalms and prophets there is no physical requirements, exclusions or cultic actions that prepares one to enter into the house of the LORD, instead the focus is on the way one lives out one’s relationship with one’s neighbor. Perhaps echoing this Psalm, the prophet Micah can say:
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6: 6-8
In contrast to the duplicitous hearts in Psalm 12 and those who say in their hearts “there is no God” as in Psalm 14, stand the righteous ones who speak truth from the heart and who honor and fear God are allowed to enter into the presence of God. It is one’s life in relation to one’s neighbor that prepares one to enter into the temple or tabernacle, one’s life in the mundane life of community that is the preparation for the sacred encounter with God. Loving one’s neighbor and living as truthful and righteous people toward the community is preparation for encountering God in the promised communion. As Rolf Jacobson can state, “when the Lord extends an invitation for a person to enter the sacred space, God insists that one’s neighbors are also invited.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 173)
This short Psalm has a number of phrases that point towards what a life that is prepared to see God’s presence not only in the holy spaces but in the normal secular spaces of life as well. Speaking truth from one’s heart refers both to a person whose speech reflect truly their own character but also their character is pure and peaceful as well. The refuse to speak of a neighbor in a way that compromises the person’s participation within the community but instead as Martin Luther can talk about in his explanation to the eighth commandment:
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light. (Luther, A Contemporary Translation of Luther’s Small Catechism, 1978, p. 20)
While we may struggle a little initially with the language of, “in whose eyes the wicked are despised” there is a strong need for the community not to tolerate or ignore things that are contrary to the justice their God has called for. When we turn a blind eye or accept, for example, the abuse of children or the oppression of the homeless then we have also turned away from the God who cares for the children and the vulnerable. After wrestling with Deuteronomy and Jeremiah I’ve come to appreciate the urgency the people of Israel felt for attempting to create a society that lived into the vision God called them to. A trustworthy society where the words and actions represented the God’s dream for them and the world. A society where mercy for one’s neighbor was more important than profit one could make upon one’s neighbor by charging interest to them in their need.
The Psalm is a bold vision and a vision that is challenging in our time. It is a vision that looks at holiness in terms of how we treat our neighbors rather than some version of piety or orthodoxy. In this Psalm and in many other places, particularly in the Psalms and prophets, issues of proper attire or cultic actions are disregarded or at least given a far lower place than one’s relationship with the neighbor. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus can echo this sentiment when he talks about leaving one’s gift before the altar to be reconciled to one’s neighbor (Matthew 5: 23-24). In contrast to the previous three Psalms, where one finds oneself in the position where the wicked seem to be prospering, the Psalmist now returns to the vision of the first Psalm, where the LORD watches over the righteous and they will not be moved. Their words and their actions truthfully come out of their heart and even when their truthful words and actions or their willingness to stand with their neighbor causes them hurt they are not moved. They look at the world through the lens of mercy rather than profit, through the lens of love rather than acquisition and they are perhaps ready to enter into the sacred spaces of the world where God meets them because they lived a godly life in the secular places of life.