Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread…but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. (Psalm 1:1-3)
Growing trees can be a difficult process. Perhaps there are some who find it relatively easy, but those people seem to be the exception. For most individuals, growing plants or trees is an inexact science. Various plants can be given the same type of care, yet some grow and some do not. It doesn’t make sense.
In the corner of the lot of the first house my wife and I ever owned stood a weeping willow tree that towered over every other tree in the neighborhood. The neighborhood was only ten years old, and before building, the entire neighborhood was plowed and prepared so there were no trees older than ten years. Most of the trees still showed that they were in an inmature stage, but not our weeping willow. It grew stronger and taller than any other tree. There were even multiple weeping willows in the neighborhood (apparently there had been a sale on weeping willows when the neighborhood was built), but ours was by far the tallest. It was fascinating.
Our house sat on a corner lot and had a lard drainage ditch that ran the perimeter of our lot that bordered the street. The neighborhood had a slight slant, and when it rained, the rain from the entire neighborhood would eventually find its way into our drainage ditch, wrapping around the outside of our yard. Our weeping willow sat at the corner where the rain water wrapped around our house, and every time it rained that weeping willow was being nourished by the rains that fell from the sky. Those rains became a secret growth formula, feeding and nourishing that tree causing it to grow and mature beyond its years.
Psalm 1 is clearly placed at the beginning of the book of Psalms as an introduction; a template to follow and a reminder of what is most important. The Psalms were the hymn book of ancient Israel, yet Psalm 1 is more wisdom literature than hymn of praise. It presents two very contrasting ways (the ways of righteousness and wickedness) and challenges the listener to choose which way to follow. The Psalm presents life as a stark black and white reality. Obviously, life is never this clear-cut, but the point is not to nuance every decision, but to make the differences so clear that the choice of which to choose is easy to make. In this sense, the choice is so clear that even the first and last words of the Psalm make the answer plain to understand. Happy are the righteous, but the wicked will perish. The wise one, according to the Psalmist, will choose the way of righteousness, and walk in the ways of God.
Yet the greatest piece of wisdom is not so much will one choose the way of righteousness or the way of wickedness, but what it is that leads to the righteous life in the first place. The Psalmist says what leads to the righteous life is immersing oneself in scripture. It’s reading and meditating on the law of God every day and night. What leads to righteousness is not learning how to always make the right choice at any given minute, but immersing oneself in scripture and allowing the Holy Spirit to use the word of God to transform our lives into the image of Christ.
The advice almost sounds too simple, if you want to live a righteous life it begins with daily reading and meditating on scripture. Like Naaman, we hear the advice and turn in anger because we were expecting something greater. Righteousness begins with social justice, like feeding the homeless or settling refugees. Righteousness is action. We hear the advice and we walk away because it doesn’t sound like our request is being taken seriously.
The truth is, we all know we should read and meditate on scripture more, but so often we let other things become more important in our lives. We let the pressing matters of the day take prominence in our lives over what is of most importance. Yet as we consider how to live a righteous life; how to engage social justice issues, how to care for the creation, or how to live ethically in the public sphere, when we consider these questions the answer always begins with reading and meditating on scripture. As we immerse ourselves in the word of God the Holy Spirit transforms us form the inside out. As we immerse ourselves in scripture, without realizing it, we gain the knowledge we need to live everyday. And just like a tree planted by streams of water, we are nourished in ways we never knew, until we become strong, producing fruit in and out of season.