The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Mothering Sunday):
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones;
not one of them will be broken.
Taken in its entirety Psalm 34 divides into three distinct sections: verses 1 to 3 are a call to praise; verses 4 to 10 are an expression of thanksgiving; verses 11 to the end are closely linked to the wisdom teaching of the Old Testament writing such as the Book of Proverbs.
On Mothering Sunday we focus on the wisdom teaching contained within this psalm.
For most parents there are many times of great anxiety brought on by concern that they are doing ‘the right thing’ for their children.
These verses from Psalm 34 provide a framework of consolation and reassurance for those suffering from such anxiety.
As well as within the context of domestic family life these verses offer wise guidance in any community-based setting in which we might find ourselves.
They provide guidance and perspective to Church communities, just as they offer guidance and perspective to anxious parents.
The words contained in verses 13-15: Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry are so powerful that they are quoted at the beginning of the Rule of St Benedict, that influential early blueprint for the ordering of the life of monastic communities.
In these modern times we can easily be distracted by our desire to give our children the ‘best that money can buy’; verses 11-20 of Psalm 34 suggest that we can do better than that.
Teaching fear of the Lord does not sound an attractive agenda for twenty-first century parenthood, but what if we take away the emotional overtones associated with the way we use the word ‘fear’?
What if we turn ‘fear’ into ‘honour and respect’?
Surely we can then see how this wonderful moment in the Book of Psalms helps and encourages us as we lead others (and especially our children) into lives of honour, respect, goodness, honesty, peace and kindness.
Suddenly our anxiety can diminish as we stop striving for earthly well-being and let God lead us along paths that will ultimately bring us into his loving presence.