|U.S. Supreme Court|
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;the lives of the poor he shall save. Psalm 72:12-13The "he" in this passage is the King of Israel. It is a prayer that the king will be the source of justice and peace within the kingdom. In fact, it is through the king that justice and peace will prevail. As a result, salvation in some sense comes through the king and the king's relationship with the Divine One. This made great sense in a society and culture in which the king basically owned and controlled with absolute authority the territory of the kingdom and the inhabitants therein. As a matter of fact, there was no other way in which the rule of the Divine One could be understood within that culture.
The result has been a profusion of royal terms and imagery to describe the, well you see what I mean, the kingdom of the Divine One. When you add to that the patriarchal character of that early society, it is easy to see how things turned out the way they did. We have a male dominated church with many of the trappings ad practices of a feudal if not royal system.
The 18th century in Europe and European colonies saw the rise of a different system of governance and social organization: democracy. The first words of the American constitution say it all. "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." The source of authority and identity became the people, not the king. The life we experience today in modern America is the fruit of that initiating insight and principle.
One of the difficulties of this change is that our religious language and symbols seem so irrelevant to our life. They not only seem archaic but even dangerous. We have no King who will protect us and make our world righteous as suggested in these lines from the Psalms. The concern is no longer to have a "good" king but somehow to have a "good" demos or people. This is a much more complicated and challenging task.
Just re-read those lines substituting "we" for "he" along a few other changes in person and number.
For we shall rescue the poor when they cry out,and the afflicted when they have no one to help them.We shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;the lives of the poor we shall save.The call to justice and mercy is no longer to the King as one we look to for safety and salvation. The call is to each and all of us. Not only is this more in accord with our democratic traditions, it is also more in accord with the fundamental message of the teaching of Jesus. We are all one body constituted by our union with Jesus the Christ and called to include all.