Hear this, all you peoples;
listen, all who live in this world,
both low and high,
rich and poor alike:
My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
the meditation of my heart will give you understanding.
I will turn my ear to a proverb;
with the harp I will expound my riddle…
– Psalm 49
Sometimes the Psalmist’s world sounds uncannily like our own. We also live in a world where wealth often brings power and arrogance and where it’s usually the small people who suffer. It’s a universal disease which afflicts all types of societies, although in capitalism it seems to be actively promoted.
At the time of writing billionaire tax exile Philip Green has been accused of using his wealth to hide accusations of bullying and sexual harassment. In Turkey it has now been admitted that a journalist was bloodily murdered in the embassy of the oil rich Saudi Arabians. On a more minor note David Beckham successfully hired an expensive lawyer to get him off a speeding charge even though the ex-England footballer admitted to being guilty of driving his Daimler at 59mph in a 40mph zone. It seems if you have enough money you are able to lead a different life to everyone else, a life that appears to place you above the law and can lead to little or no regard for the wellbeing of others.
The abuse of wealth to cover up misdeeds and to cover up the suffering of others is as depressing in our day as it was in the Psalmist’s and can lead us either to jealousy or despair. However, if we are tempted to think that way it’s worth reminding ourselves that for all their money and power the amoral affluent share the same destiny as those that they have ripped off, ignored, abused, exploited or even murdered. At the end of the day you really can’t take it with you. None of their ill-gotten or ill-kept wealth can insulate them or insure them against the one great reality of death: there’s a train a-coming, it might be slow but it’s coming.
The hope of life beyond the grave is not really developed in the scriptures we refer to as the Old Testament but it is hinted at here and there and this is one of those occasions. Derek Kidner calls verse 15 ‘one of the mountain-tops of Old Testament hope.’
This hope of life with God beyond death is not a big paracetamol – Marx’s opiate to take away the pain of the present – but rather a stimulant to live a different type of life: a life of acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8) because we know that ultimately God’s kingdom is the one that will prevail.