Gall

By Kristen Gunn

A Reading from Psalm 69

1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have risen up to my neck.

2 I am sinking in deep mire,
and there is no firm ground for my feet.

3 I have come into deep waters,
and the torrent washes over me.

4    I have grown weary with my crying;
my throat is inflamed;
my eyes have failed from looking for my God.

5 Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs
of my head;
my lying foes who would destroy me are mighty.
Must I then give back what I never stole?

6 O God, you know my foolishness,
and my faults are not hidden from you.

7 Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
Lord GOD of hosts;
let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me,
O God of Israel.

8 Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach,
and shame has covered my face.

9 I have become a stranger to my own kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children.

10 Zeal for your house has eaten me up;
the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.

11 I humbled myself with fasting,
but that was turned to my reproach.

12 I put on sack-cloth also,
and became a byword among them.

13 Those who sit at the gate murmur against me,
and the drunkards make songs about me.

14 But as for me, this is my prayer to you,
at the time you have set, O LORD:

15 “In your great mercy, O God,
answer me with your unfailing help.

16 Save me from the mire; do not let me sink;
let me be rescued from those who hate me
and out of the deep waters.

17 Let not the torrent of waters wash over me,
neither let the deep swallow me up;
do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.

18 Answer me, O LORD, for your love is kind;
in your great compassion, turn to me.”

19 “Hide not your face from your servant;
be swift and answer me, for I am in distress.

20 Draw near to me and redeem me;
because of my enemies deliver me.

21 You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor;
my adversaries are all in your sight.”

22 Reproach has broken my heart, and it cannot be healed;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I could find no one.

23 They gave me gall to eat,
and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink.

24 Let the table before them be a trap
and their sacred feasts a snare.

25 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see,
and give them continual trembling in their loins.

26 Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let the fierceness of your anger overtake them.

27 Let their camp be desolate,
and let there be none to dwell in their tents.

28 For they persecute him whom you have stricken
and add to the pain of those whom you have pierced.

29 Lay to their charge guilt upon guilt,
and let them not receive your vindication.

30 Let them be wiped out of the book of the living
and not be written among the righteous.

31 As for me, I am afflicted and in pain;
your help, O God, will lift me up on high.

32 I will praise the Name of God in song;
I will proclaim his greatness with thanksgiving.

33 This will please the LORD more than an offering of oxen,
more than bullocks with horns and hoofs.

34 The afflicted shall see and be glad;
you who seek God, your heart shall live.

35 For the LORD listens to the needy,
and his prisoners he does not despise.

36 Let the heavens and the earth praise him,
the seas and all that moves in them;

37 For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;
they shall live there and have it in possession.

38 The children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his Name will dwell therein.

Meditation

They gave me gall to eat, and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink.

The passion narratives in all four gospels recount the detail that Jesus is offered oxos (the Septuagint word for what our prayer book has as “vinegar”) to drink just before crying out and breathing his last. For textually-aware hearers of these narratives throughout the ages, this detail of the wine-vinegar has linked the righteous man suffering at Golgotha to the righteous sufferer of Psalm 69.

What I didn’t know until touring Roman Britain this summer was that another detail about this moment at the cross — what Matthew and Mark tell us about the drink being offered on a sponge on a stick — may well have taken Roman minds to another, nauseating place. If I understand correctly, it would not have been the vinegar that was the substance of the soldiers’ insult (the oxos was their own cheap drink), but the way in which it was offered that was particularly meant to sting. For in Roman culture, a sponge on a stick (what they called a tersorium or xylospongium) was what was used either to clean oneself after using a latrine or to scrub the latrine itself.

We don’t know that the Roman soldiers mocking Jesus were in fact using one of these to slake his thirst, but the imagery of the gesture — what it may well have suggested about Jesus to Jesus, and everyone else around — would have been clear enough. If this was humanity’s last “word,” last sign-act, to the dying Lord, what a moment. What a crowning of sin and of cruelty.

And yet — thanks above and beyond all to God — this “word” of ours wasn’t the end of the conversation.

Kristen Gunn is a lay leader and has an M.T.S. from Nashotah House Theological Seminary. In her free time she enjoys learning Latin and kayaking as much as possible.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Newark
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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