Psalm 15

Justice and Acceptance

A Psalm by David.

1 YHWH, who shall dwell in your sanctuary?
Who shall live on your holy hill?
2 He who walks blamelessly does what is right,
and speaks truth in his heart;
3 He who doesn't slander with his tongue,
nor does evil to his friend,
nor casts slurs against his fellow man;
4 In whose eyes a vile man is despised,
but who honors those who fear YHWH;
he who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and doesn't change;
5 he who doesn't lend out his money for usury,
nor take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be shaken.

World English Bible

How do you experience forgiveness and acceptance?

The court system in the United States defines justice as fairness. This insight might seem obvious, but there are other definitions for justice. For some cultures, justice means forgiveness. For these peoples, justice is not an exercise in one's rights and the search for an equitable settlement; justice strives to bring back the lost and re-integrate them into society. We have courts that give settlements and sentences; these cultures have rituals of acceptance.

Imagine the criminal who repaid his debt to society. In our culture, closure for this criminal would be disengagement from the criminal system. The criminal would no longer have a parole officer; he could walk the streets as he saw fit. But, what if he wanted to return to an institution he wronged? What if he wanted to become a full fledged member of that institution? We do not have rituals of re-admittance, but many cultures do.

Some bible scholars speculate Psalm 15 represented a ritual to re-admit a penitent to the Temple for worship. Psalm 15:1 began with a question: who could live with God? The images of the tent for the Exodus journey and the mountain where the Temple sat represented the presence of the divine. The answer came with a brief summation of the Law. 15:2 stressed the intent of the faithful Jew, since the spirit of the Law lead to its observance. 15:3-5 described relations with one's countrymen; respect others, reject evil people, fear God, be fair in questions of politics and commerce. 15:6 closed the psalm with a note of encouragement: "whoever acts in this way will not be disturbed."

Let's assume the biblical scholars are correct; Psalm 15 was a ritual of re-admittance to the Temple. The ritual could be divided into the following steps. The penitent, along with a priest and possibly other officials stood at the Temple gate. The priest would ask the question posed in 15:1. The penitent or a representative would answer with 15:3-5; in this way, the penitent would renew his commitment to faithfulness. The priest would respond with 15:6; he would approve of the penitent's return, thus allowing him entrance to the Temple. While this scenario is not certain, it can give us a glimpse into the cultural values of the time.

Many Americans believe forgiveness and acceptance should be relegated to the private sphere; the public sphere of the courts or legislation should focus on justice and the rights of the people. This is unfortunate. Imagine if our culture did have public rituals of forgiveness. We might be a better society, for we would have a way to reintegrate the penitent. We would have institutional ways not just to right wrongs, but to heal them.

Everyone has a person they need to forgive. Everyone has the need for forgiveness. Who is that person in your life? How can you forgive and seek forgiveness? How can you know forgiveness is successful?