Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name.
These familiar words open Psalm 103, which is sometimes called “the psalm of thanksgiving for God’s goodness.” Paraphrased in Hymn 411 and popularized in the musical Godspell, the psalm calls us to praise – offering reminders of God’s comfort of care, forgiveness, and mercy. The later verses of the psalm are prayed on Ash Wednesday, again reminding us that God responds to our repentance with forgiveness, mercy, and kindness, throwing our sins as far as the east is from the west.
The verse right in the middle is often overlooked – The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
This is one of the clearest statements of God’s commitment to ensure that those who are pushed to the margins, left out of the good things in life, are not left alone. In ways we do not fully understand, God stands with and works on behalf of those for whom the structures of society do not work. God does not stand idly by. God works to uphold their claims and ensure justice is done. Liberation theologians call this “God’s preferential option for the poor.”
As I have watched the demonstrations following the death of George Floyd play out across our country, I am sobered by the psalmist’s declaration – The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. I hear the anguish, the frustration, the fear, and the hopelessness coming from African-Americans. Fellow Americans who already find unequal treatment in the structures of society and in this pandemic have experienced higher rates of death and unemployment, while being blocked out of many relief programs.
The protests highlight realities that are not unknown. James Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, outlined them in a memo to shareholders on May 20, 2020.
“The last few months have laid bare the reality that, even before the pandemic hit, far too many people were living on the edge. Low-income communities and people of color are being hit the hardest, exacerbating the health and economic inequities that were already unacceptably pronounced before the virus took over.”
Two weeks before these protests happened, Dimon issued a call for action.
“An inclusive economy – in which there is widespread access to opportunity – is a stronger, more resilient economy. This crisis must serve as a wake-up call and a call to action for business and government to think, act and invest for the common good and confront the structural obstacles that have inhibited inclusive economic growth for years.”
Justice apparently makes good economic sense.
As people of faith, we can unite around God’s call to care for those who live at the margins. We can join in God’s work for justice making, which will result in a better world for all of us. This is at the heart of Jesus’ prayer that God’s kingdom may come on earth as in heaven. This is how God is determined to bless us.