In many ways, the violent images of an anointed king whose scepters crush his enemies while laughing at them, are ones that I have difficulty embracing. Though I know like all the psalms, this hymn is a prayer of Jesus just as it is a prayer of Israel, I have difficulty squaring its picture of God’s anointed king as a man of mocking violence with Jesus’ example of suffering love and Jesus’ teachings for us to choice non-violence, reject vengeance, and be peace-makers working for reconciliation.
Yet as I think of Jesus’ teachings, I remember Jesus telling us in the Gospel of John that his kingdom is not of this world or he would call his followers to fight. This shows both that it is right to reject these images of violence as endorsed by God in a literal way, but also a way to re-interpret them that makes sense.
Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and his fight is not with material enemies. No, Jesus tells us in Luke 4 he is anointed as the Son such Psalms speak of not to seek revenge on human enemies but to set the captives free, to proclaim the arrival of the Jubilee year of canceled debts and God’s forgiveness flowing from God’s favor, to open blind eyes, to overturn slavery and oppression. Christians believe that we people of faith are also called to in our way to also discover a son-ship, daughter-hood to God and so share in this same work of setting free the oppressed.
To set free the oppressed though means facing down oppression, calling it out for what it is, and working to end it. It involves a kind of battle not through violence but through raising awareness, through working for justice, through helping transform society. The enemies which the anointed Son and all his siblings stand against are injustice, racism, oppression, poverty, violence, abuse, and ever –ism which seeks to hold down and oppress us or our neighbor.
Read in this way, this Psalm becomes a message of hope. Do not worry – injustice will end. As Martin Luther King proclaimed, the arc of the moral universe may be long but it bends toward justice. This is why Desmond Tutu used to tell the proponents of apartheid with its racism, sexism, and homophobia “We are inviting you to join the winning side” with his characteristic smile and laugh. We can laugh at injustice, knowing its days are numbered, and let that joy galvanize us to continue the work of making this world more as it is in heaven.