This is a new year Thanksgiving Psalm for the past year. This particular Psalm is recited every day between Passover and Pentecost in the Jewish community, as part of the “counting of the Omer”, which is tied in with the harvesting of the first of the new crop at the end of the countdown of these 50 days.
When we recall that Jesus was executed at Passover time, and that there was a great reawakening of his followers at Pentecost 50 days later, and that they were all Jewish, and therefore would be “counting the Omer” each day during that period as part of their traditional celebration of that time of year, this Psalm takes on new significance because they would be reading it every day as they processed the crisis they had faced with the execution of their friend shortly before, and their confusion as to what to do in the light of it. As I read through this Psalm knowing that incident, I find it interesting to speculate as to the role it played in the development of their thought during that 50 day period.
That is, Jesus had trained 12 of his many disciples to do a particular task after his death – to take the insights of Judaism and jump over the Jewish cultural wall and take those insights out to other cultures as “salt, light, and leaven” in order to “flavor, enlighten, and fluff up” the other cultures of the world.
Up until this time, the Jewish community had basically said to other cultures, if you want to know our insights about God, come and become Jewish. One of the major contributions Jesus made was to change the flow of that to export – and to remove the need for people to become culturally Jewish in order to benefit from the insights of Jewish thought.
One of the last things Jesus said to these 12 specially trained people was that they were no longer restricted to their own local Jewish community, as they had been during their training period, but rather were now free to go elsewhere in the world and share what they had learned over their lifetime within their own community – so the last line has a special meaning – “God has blessed us – let all the ends of the earth come to respect him”.
There are three major religious groupings who draw their life from the God who is spoken about in the Old Testament – the original Jewish community, the Christian community that split off from it, and the Muslim community. In my copy of the Koran (the major book within the Muslim community) there is a statement I find fascinating in the introduction – that Islam emerged in the Middle East at a time when both Jewish and Christian communities were being particularly obnoxious – which is of course the cause of many group splits. Nevertheless, all three communities have drawn from the richness of the Jewish understanding of God and his perspective on life.