Biblical meditation: ephemeral and fragile

Sunday, September 4, 2022, four texts will be read.
First reading Book of Wisdom (Wis 9, 13-18).
Psalm 89.
Second reading Letter from Saint Paul the Apostle to Philemon (Phm 9b-10.12-17).
The Gospel according to Saint Luke (Lk 14, 25-33).

Psalm 89 (90)

“You turn man back to dust;
you said, “Return, son of Adam!”
In your eyes, a thousand years are like yesterday,
it’s a day that goes away, an hour in the night.

You have swept them away: it is only a dream;
in the morning, it is a changing grass:
it blooms in the morning, it changes;
in the evening, it is withered, dried up.

Teach us the true measure of our days:
let our hearts penetrate wisdom.
Come back, Lord, why delay?
Change your mind for the sake of your servants.

Satisfy us with your love in the morning,
that we spend our days in joy and song.
May the sweetness of the Lord our God come upon us!
Strengthen for us the work of our hands. »

Precariousness and prayer

This psalm leads us into a magnificent reflection on human fragility: a question of always but particularly burning today where man discovers himself a colossus with feet of clay, now powerless in the face of a world he believed in his power. to dominate and which is consumed before his eyes.

The Hebrew language has several words to designate man. “Dust”, “powder”, this is what the Hebrew word means enosh, chosen by the author of the psalm to designate “man”. Not Adam, the creature drawn from clay and receiving the breath of life, but enosh, the mortal, he who like grass is born in the morning and by evening is withered.

Aware of his fragility, the psalmist turns to God to pray to him. We could speak here of its “precariousness”, this word of the same root as “prayer” and meaning etymologically “what is obtained in prayer”.

Today, to speak of a precarious life, of a precarious job, is to immediately evoke the suffering inherent in this condition, which affects some individuals more than others, and which should not be underestimated. : it is a state that is not assured, a fragile happiness that prevents you from projecting yourself into the future. For the psalmist, however, precariousness is also a place of hope, where God can manifest himself. It is the state not of a few but of every human in front of his God.

The possibilities opened up by smallness

The psalmist asks God for two things: wisdom, which allows us to take stock of our days, and therefore of our ephemeral and fragile nature. And the joy of living full days, whatever the number, filled with divine love from the morning. Mere reflection on human nature could lead to despair. But in a believing process, the just awareness of our smallness does not exclude joy in God.

The psalmist probes the human condition and its tragic dimension, not in the manner of the philosophers of Antiquity, but in the light of his faith. His fragility is therefore not a reason for despair or resignation: in God, the destiny of man is transformed into a promise of joy. From our smallness, God can do great things.

Let us remember the story of the multiplication of the loaves: did not Jesus count on the little that the disciples had and not on their riches? Is it not with their five loaves and their two fish that he fed 5,000 men, not counting 12 baskets of leftovers for all?

There are different ways of considering the infinite smallness of the human. The author of the psalm accepts this fragility by seeing in it the possibility for God to manifest his love and his transforming power. From any man can be born extraordinary capacities, if God lends him strength.

To pray is to recognize that we are not all-powerful but that God comes to live in our precariousness, to free our creative forces, to bring out the best in us. The human is Enosh, the mortal, but also Adam, who receives life from God to share without limit.

Christine Renouard is a pastor of the United Protestant Church of France and former general coordinator of the chaplaincies of the Foundation of the Deaconesses of Reuilly. She published A way of life. The Psalms Editions Olivetan.

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Biblical meditation: ephemeral and fragile

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