Judeo-Christian Karma

Friday, August 23, 2013 — Week of Proper 15, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 980)

Psalms 140, 142 (morning) // 141, 143:1-11(12) (evening)

2 Samuel 19:24-43

Acts 24:24-25:12

Mark 12:35-44

Our Psalm this morning asks the Lord for a world in which everyone receives retribution for their misdeeds. The psalmist prays to the Lord for something like a law of karma, which would prescribe punishments perfectly suited to the corresponding crimes.

Let’s take a moment to indulge in the psalmist’s vision of a karmically-governed world. Surely we all know some “evildoers,” and we might like to see them reap what they sow. The psalmist knows people who have sharp tongues, and whose lips contain adder’s poison. Don’t we all know people who say cruel and malicious things? The psalmist asks the Lord, “Let the evil of their lips overwhelm them.”

The psalmist also knows people who are violent and who want to drive him down—to “trip me up” or plan “my downfall.” Don’t we all know destructive people who try to put others down? The psalmist asks the Lord to let these people be the ones who are “cast into the mire” or “flung into pits,” so that they can never get up again.

And the psalmist knows people who are out to get him. They are “proud” or “arrogant,” depending on the translation, and they hide snares, lay out nets, and set traps for him. Don’t we all know people whose egos are threatened by others, and who might even set others up to fail? The psalmist asks the Lord to turn the hunter into the hunted: “evil shall hunt down the lawless.”

Is our God a God of retributive justice? In some cases, we do have to live out the consequences of our harsh words or unkind actions. But at other times, our enemies seem to get away with evil . . . and we ourselves receive grace.

The last two verses of our Psalm make a subtle shift in focus from a God of retributive justice to a God of distributive justice. After his prayer for apt punishments, the psalmist proclaims his faith: “I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the poor and render justice to the needy.” This verse lays the foundation for God’s justice, which is not about delivering punishments but about providing for those in need and fighting for the poor.

At times in our lives, we all need to get our desire for retributive justice off our chests. But we don’t live in a world controlled by karma. We live in a world governed by God’s standards of justice. And real justice, holy justice, and justice worth pursuing and enacting doesn’t start with what people deserve according to their deeds. God’s justice starts with what people need.

Today, we just might face an opportunity to let go of our desire for retributive justice and turn to the Lord who will “maintain the cause of the poor and render justice to the needy.”

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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