"“Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him. You will eat the fruit of your labour; blessings and prosperity will be yours.”"

It’s sometimes harder to read Psalms about prosperity than those about suffering. While we can echo the Psalms of lament, recognising the suffering in the world, we sometimes struggle to affirm words like this verse above. Even if we are doing quite well, we know that others are not. When we read in Psalm 37:25, for instance: I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread,” we know that we do in fact see the righteous appear forsaken. We may then ask: where is the welcome bluntness of the Psalms of lament? Where is the searing honesty of Job?

It may help us to remember that these Psalms are for corporate use, not simply for individuals. In these pilgrim Psalms we see the portrait of a people. And some on the pilgrimage would have been lamenting an awful year, while others would be rejoicing in the gifts of God. Not only did these two groups worship the same God, they were even willing to sing each others’ songs in solidarity as the people of God – rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

We see a pale imitation of this kind of solidarity in the rhetoric of political parties. They too set before us examples of prosperity and suffering, with which we can identify. But each party will only provide examples that confirm their narrative. And so this political solidarity is always conditional; one person’s suffering matters or another’s prosperity is celebrated because it supports a particular cause. 

But as the church, we have a kind of unconditional solidarity because we are one body in Christ. It is Christ, not us, who decides who is in or out, and it is Christ’s story we tell, not one of our own design. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:13 – 14: For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” 

And so we are united with those who have very different experiences from us, but we are still one body. Early Christian thinkers such as Augustine read verse 3 of Psalm 128 (your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots round your table”) as referring to the church, the bride of Christ. His is the labour whose fruit we all eat, whatever we rejoice in and whatever we may be suffering. 

But this unity despite different joys and sufferings does not make these differences unimportant. Instead, it must change how we act. This was true for the Israelites, who first sang these psalms and first heard the prophets call for justice. It was true also for the New Testament church, as Paul builds on his identification of believers as one body with the famous words on love in 1 Corinthians 13. May it be true of us today, as we engage with the election and seek to use our voice for good!