This is an ancient question. It has run, like a single thread, through the mind of every believer, from long before David, down to each one of us today.
This is an ancient question. It has run, like a single thread, through the mind of every believer, from long before David, down to each one of us today. It is a question rooted in our deepest longing, that is, to be in God’s presence, forever. It is a question that has very clear answers too.
This psalm was actually a liturgical scrutiny that was conducted at the entrance to the Temple court in David’s time. If one wished to be admitted into the Temple precincts, one had to ask the Temple official what conduct was appropriate for one wishing to enter into God’s precincts. Metaphorically, the Temple stands for heaven’s precincts as well here. Listen to the psalm’s answer, and pay attention to how much emphasis is put on virtues that relate to how one ought to act toward one’s neighbor.
ʺWhoever walks without blame,
Doing what is right,
Speaking truth from the heart;
Who does not slander with his tongue,
Does no harm to a friend,
Never defames a neighbor;
Who disdains the wicked,
But honors those who fear the Lord;
Who keeps an oath despite the cost,
Lends no money at interest,
Accepts no bribe against the innocent.
Whoever acts like this
Shall never be shaken.ʺ
When we read this list of virtues following the question of ʺWho may abide in your tent?ʺ do we not see their innate and natural wisdom? Another question that can be asked here is, ʺWhat would the world be like if more and more people lived out of these virtues?ʺ There is, most likely, not one of us who does not see the value of these virtues. We recognize in them the living, effective elements of the Golden Rule, ʺDo unto others as you would have them do unto you.ʺ (Mt. 7:12) We may also recognize that they are not easy virtues to acquire; that they must be gained over a lifetime of trial, error, and learning. But we also understand that these are the virtues that Jesus modeled to us. These are the virtues that every Christian is called to develop in their lives. They are the signs of a mature, virtuous character. They are the virtues of the Christ-like life we are all called to. They embody both a proper love of self, revealed in one’s habits of self-discipline, as well as a deep recognition of the innate dignity of others, and of the infinite love and respect that they are due as fellow children of God.
We all know, too, how we fall short of these virtues at times. Who among us can say that we walk without blame? Who among us can say that we always speak truthfully from our hearts? Who among us has not slandered another with our words, out of our jealousy, or anger? We know that we have harmed others, both intentionally and unintentionally. There have been times that we went along with ʺwickedʺ things, just to belong and not be rejected by those we thought were our friends. Today, the lending of money is seen as an ʺinvestment,ʺ something that is used for financial gain. In Old Testament times, lending money was often seen as a way of assisting the poor in their distress. Making money off of them was forbidden. If you think about it, today, even our ʺcharitable offeringsʺ are often given for the purpose of getting the benefit of a ʺtax deductionʺ on our annual income taxes, rather than as a pure act of love and compassion for the suffering other, done with no expectation of a return.
Still, these virtues are real means through which we may gain entrance into the heavenly precincts. If we have the heartfelt desire to develop these habits of love, God, who knows our hearts, will give us the graces we need to keep working toward them, for it is his desire to be with us forever in heaven as well.
Lord, I long to be able to enter your kingdom. I know that I am weak, yet I desire with all of my heart, to serve you through my loving care for others. Help me to develop the habits of love that make for a virtuous life, so that I might be worthy to come into your presence when my life here is done. I pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen.SKM: below-content placeholder