Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
…. who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
…he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
PSALM 146:5, 7–9, ESV
Psalm 146 is the final ‘happy’ saying of the Psalms. It brings together a focus on God as the source of happiness and a focus on the shape of our life together as a condition for happiness. Human beings are made in the image of God, and fallen human beings are called to imitate God – to become holy, as God is holy (Leviticus 19:2). Time and again in the Old Testament, God draws the people’s attention to his care for the vulnerable and his passion for justice and righteousness, and calls them to follow suit.
This isn’t just about my personal choices – about how I spend money, how I might vote, whether I open my house to be hospitable, or how I speak about those who struggle – though all these things matter. The vision of the Old Testament is for a transformed community. Happiness has an ethical and communal shape. It is about the habits we practise, the choices we make, and the ways we affect one another.
There is no speaking of ‘my’ flourishing, or ‘my’ happiness in the Psalms without speaking of yours, and of the whole nation’s. Happiness is something we pursue together. When we care for those who are vulnerable, share resources, refuse to accumulate wealth at the expense of others, or nurture the stranger, we make it possible for happiness to blossom among us. When we fail to do this, some people wither while others thrive, there is no space for true happiness, and no space for blessing.
Reading the news, it would be easy to despair, because human beings are so bad at doing this! Inequality, injustice, and conflict are all around us, and happiness is often seen as a personal right rather than something we work on together. But the Psalms do not lead us into despair. Psalm 146 reminds us that even though we are all called to join in with God’s work, ultimately, it is God who holds our lives in his hands, and God will bring about justice, righteousness, and deliverance.
In the meantime, we are called to pursue the things of God: to look around where we live and notice and love the stranger and those who struggle; to work cheerfully because our work contributes to the common good; to teach our children to look for happiness beyond their own; and to pray for the God who loves justice to transform our hearts, and heal our communities.
Revd Prebendary Dr Isabelle Hamley
Secretary for Theology and Theological Adviser to the House of Bishops
What does following the path of a God of justice, who cares for vulnerable, look like for you? What ‘next step’ might he be calling you to take in pursuing justice? Join the conversation below.