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afailureI was in a conversation last evening about the difficulty of being honest if one is dependent on others for self-esteem. There are other reasons why people lie, of course – perhaps especially in business these days – but even in our everyday lives the challenge is to avoid linking our worth to success or failure in the eyes of others or even ourselves. As I write this, my thoughts come round to the conclusion that our image of God needs to be taken into consideration here. If the God I believe in is the God of unconditional love, I ought to be able to be honest about both my successes and failures before God and, in that assurance, not be so timid about speaking the truth in all situations.

Psalm 78 is one of the longest psalms. It is, according to one commentator, the retelling of the epic journey of Israel, both an interior and an exterior experience of wandering. It is the reflection of someone who wants to see clearly the realities, and who laments the mistakes of the past…He or she does not glorify the past (as most epic stories do), but tells it in stark detail, failure after failure…It is perhaps true that this is wisdom literature precisely because it refuses to do what other literature does: glorify the past and gloss over the failures in which lie the deepest lessons of wisdom. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.199)

The first eight verses of the psalm tell of the purpose of recounting what is to come in the rest of the “history lesson” and it is these verses that appear in the lectionary today. I think it bears repeating.

Listen carefully, my people, pay close attention, all who belong to me. For I am about to speak as teacher, explaining the mysteries of old. I will teach you using parables drawn from ancient times. I will teach you many lessons you must know. And what you learn and come to hear, speak it to your children, so generations yet unborn will know God’s works and ways, how God taught ancient Jacob and Israel knowledge of the law; how it became a pathway, a teaching meant for all. It passed as holy wisdom to the people as yet unborn so as they lived their trust would grow upon the paths of God, and not rebel or learn so slow, as their ancestors before them.

The commentator asks questions for meditation which stood out to me as directive for today. 1. Where have you experienced the divine teacher in the midst of both success and failure? 2. What have you learned specifically from failure and sin, or disobedience to the best that you knew? AND What have you gained from mistakes made in ignorance?