Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On Ps 109:7: "He will drink from the brook by the way..."

My wife and I were praying the Hours recently, and the reading of Psalm 109 (110) was proscribed.  "The Lord says to my lord: 'Sit at my right hand...'"  The light of grace has made it abundantly clear to Christians of all times, beginning with the Apostles and Evangelists themselves, that this psalm relates to Christ's "Divine Begetting from the Father and His coming in the flesh" (St. Athanasius).  Thus its announcement of Jesus the Messiah is quoted frequently in the New Testament.  With the light of the Spirit, the key message of most of the verses of this psalm are clearly evident, yet the last line is still "deeply enigmatic," as Pope Benedict XVI admitted.  My wife encountered this enigma and asked me for clarification on this text.

"He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head."  These words come following the description of Jesus' victorious kingship, how He executes judgment and shatters chiefs.  It is after His destruction of His enemies that He drinks from the brook.  Pope Benedict explained it in this way: "At a moment of respite and rest, he quenches his thirst at a stream, finding in it refreshment and fresh strength to continue on his triumphant way, holding his head high as a sign of definitive victory."  My first thoughts bent also in terms of respite and rest from the battle.  The brook is particularly "by the way"; it is in the open, not hidden.  Thus it shows confidence to partake of this unguarded water, leaving oneself vulnerable.  Yet God need not fear, for His enemies cannot overtake Him.  Not only that, but He has already crushed and shattered them: thus there is no one to be guarded from, and He may freely partake of the stream.  The lifting up of His Head is a triumphant sign.

St. Augustine relates this text more specifically to the Incarnation, echoing the main theme of Christian interpretation.  Though Christ drank of the brook of human nature, He lifted up His Head through His victorious Resurrection.  As our holy and God-bearing father writes,

"What is the brook? the onward flow of human mortality...Of this brook He drinketh, He hath not disdained to drink of this brook; for to drink of this brook was to Him to be born and to die. What this brook hath, is birth and death; Christ assumed this, He was born, He died. 'Therefore hath He lifted up His head;' that is, because He was humble, and 'became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross: therefore God also hath highly exalted Him...'"

Can these two interpretations be combined?  I believe so.  "The Lord is a warrior, Lord is His Name!"  He is more than just a warrior: He is a warrior-king, Invisible King, King of the Universe.  Nothing can hide from His sight or from His power.  He is the Almighty Father.  Thus His enemies shall never overcome Him; He is always secure in His victory.  If He lets His enemies seem to be victorious upon earth, it is only as He allows, as He allowed Satan to have hold over Job; yet their power is limited by the Lord's will, for Job's soul Satan could not harm.  If the devil and those who ally with him seem to hold the world in their grasp, know that the Lord has won and will execute judgment.  But I have digressed.

The Lord is secure in His victory.  Thus He can rest without worry.  After creation the Lord rested, yet He knew of Satan's plotting: even more, though, did He know of the salvation to come to man, which would lead him to a state greater than the first.  "Where sin abounded, grace hyperabounds."  In His rest, He can even leave Himself "unguarded," one could say.  Thus He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, taking human nature, becoming an unguarded Infant Who needed His mother's swaddling to protect Him from a chill wind.  He partook of the unguarded brook, the brook by the way, for our sakes, out of His philanthropy, offering Himself for us.  Since His victory was assured from the start, He could lift up His head from His unguarded position, and He could show forth His true might, as He did when He conquered Hades through His death and Resurrection.  It is through His descent to earth, through His becoming man, that He could be exalted in such a victory over death; that is why the text says "therefore he will lift up his head."

In conclusion, let us offer praise and the sacrifice of prayer to God for His drinking from the brook of our nature, for His becoming unguarded for our sakes, and for lifting up His Head in victory, for in so doing He lifted us up with Him.  Let us always give glory to the Son Who became man for us, along with His eternal Father and His all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and always and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

Nota Bene: The quote from St. Athanasius is from his famous Letter to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms.  The quotes from Pope Benedict XVI are from his general audience on November 16, 2011, wherein he discussed Psalm 109 (110).  The quote from St. Augustine is from his Enarrationes in Psalmos 110.14 (quoted from J.E. Tweed's translation from the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series, available on New Advent.)

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