Thursday, March 18th Psalm 31:16-22

Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol. Let the lying lips be stilled that speak insolently against the righteous with pride and contempt. O how abundant is your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear you, and accomplished for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of everyone! In the shelter of your presence you hide them from human plots; you hold them safe under your shelter from contentious tongues. Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege. I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help. Psalm 31:16-22

It is easy to see why New Orleans would develop into an important and prosperous city. The mighty Mississippi river, bisecting the country, gathering goods and products from east and west, bringing them down to New Orleans. A major deep water port, trading anything and everything, linking the fledgling country with the world.

The surrounding area also had produce, valuable produce, that grew well in the rich delta soil and was continually in demand. Cotton, indigo and sugar. All very labor intensive crops to plant, tend and harvest. Around these crops grew a whole culture, a social network formed around huge plantations.

The “big house” in front. Long tree-lined driveways, majestic pillars, grand porches, ornate furniture and decorations. And behind the big house, row upon row of slave quarters, housing the slave labor that propped up the whole system. The largest plantations had 500 or more slaves. Human implements.

New Orleans was at the center of the slave trade. Unlike other cities with active slave markets, New Olreans was also the center of the illegal slave trade. Pirates attacked slave ships and sold their booty in illegal auctions. The profits were obscene. Privateers, especially Jean Laffite (who got his start in the slave trade), attacked British and Spanish ships at will.

So it is that we read these verses from Psalm 31 through the lens of New Orleans and we see things we otherwise would miss. We read: “Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.” And we see a culture where “servants” were human beings, bought and sold like cattle, thought of as less than human, yet the lynchpin in a system producing vast wealth. We read “the wicked” and we see the faces of those who prospered by theft, deceit and injustice.

And we see another line, “Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege.” And we remember that New Orleans would have fallen to the British in 1814 were it not for the help that Jean Laffite and his men (and their weapons) provided to General Andrew Jackson. The painful adjustments the city has been forced to make as their plantation culture collapsed during the Civil War, as they came to grips with life after the Civil War, as they resisted the changes brought by the civil rights movement, as the city drowned in Katrina, and as it now struggles to come back to life with 1/3 of its population gone, great swaths of the city uninhabitable, the education system a mess amid some of the worst crime statistics in the country.

So, for New Orleans, we join in the psalmist’s prayer: I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you see us as we really are. Behind our facades, our pretentions and our wishes, you see the realities of the brokenness of our lives. You see our worst ambitions, our capacity for evil, our twisted sense of status. You see the evil we can unleash on one another. And yet, you still love us with a love that will not let us go. A love that is our hope. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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4 Responses to “Thursday, March 18th Psalm 31:16-22”

  1. Meg Nelson Says:

    Good writing! I appreciate it!

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