The words of today’s psalm are a beautiful lament to our own human weakness. There is no blaming someone else. The captivity that underlies this dirge is the result of the Israelites’ own unfaithfulness. They had taken for granted the goodness of God. So downcast where their eyes and hearts and minds that, as captives in Babylon, they could no longer sing of the goodness of God. For 70 years they would feel abandonment but God would not forget them. On their return to their city of God, Jerusalem, Nehemiah would proclaim, you are a God of pardons, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in mercy; you did not forsake them (Neh. 9:17).
Why is it so easy for us to be presumptuous about God’s love and mercy? Why do we need to experience suffering in order to appreciate that which we take for granted?
Jesus begins His discourse with Nicodemus recalling the time in the desert when the people grumbled against God and He sent fiery serpents, causing the death of many (Num. 21). The people begged Moses to ask God to remove the serpents but instead of eliminating the problem God gave them a remedy. He had Moses fashion a bronze serpent raised high on a pole and declared that anyone who looked at it would be cured. Was there some special power in the bronze serpent? No, it was a test of Faith. It was by belief in God’s promise, with eyes lifted upward, that they were cured.
St. Paul echoes this theme of God’s “richness in mercy” by reminding us that it is by God’s loving grace, given freely and without any obligation toward us, that we are saved. This is worth remembering. It is something about which we can sing in thanksgiving and faithfulness to our loving Father. Let my tongue be silenced if ever I forget you!