August 13, 2018
Songs Of Prayer, Stories Of Faith

THEY WHO DO JUSTICE

Music: David Haas

Text: Psalm 15 (alt. DH)

 

They who do justice will live in the presence of God!
They who do justice will live in the presence of God!

Those who walk blamelessly and live their lives doing justice,
who keep the truth in their heart, and slander not with their tongue!

Who harm not another, nor take up reproach to their neighbor,
who hate the site of the wicked, but honor the people of God!

Who show no condition in sharing the gifts of their treasure,
who live not off the poor: they shall stand firm forever!

Copyright © 1989 GIA Publications, Inc.

This psalm, with its “reality check” refrain text, has always been a favorite. Psalm 15 holds a directness and no-nonsense message of what it means to be a disciple and to work not for a “retributive” justice (one that exacts punishment) but for a “restorative” justice, that will “honor the people of God” by showing “no condition in sharing,” celebrating the dignity of all.

It is a psalm of victory, so for some crazy reason, I called to mind one of my favorite Broadway shows, Les Misérables. For this setting I wanted to capture the same passion of “Do You Hear the People Sing” and “Red and Black” that soars in that marvelous production, and create a sense of urgency to the call for all to be a people who “live their lives doing justice.” This is why the setting has such a dramatic presentation, and why the cantor actually interrupts the refrain, because the urgency for justice-making should make us impatient—it cannot wait. This is the “feel” that I was looking for when it was recorded, and I love how the instrumentalists on this track—including Bobby Fisher on guitar, David Barrickman on synthesizer, and Gordy Knudtson on drums, bring this fierceness to the fore.

It is sad that there are still people who believe that the liturgy should not be political; that it should avoid talking about social justice, and just promote the attitude of charity. Both are needed. When we see a hungry child, the dynamic of charity urges us to feed the child, now. But it cannot end there. The dynamic of justice asks this question: why is this child hungry in the first place? What are the systems or conditions in our society that cause this to remain? After a celebration of the liturgy one Sunday, a parishioner once lamented to me, “you know, I really love our pastor, but I just wish that he would not talk so much about social justice—I just wish he would stick to preaching the gospel.” I could not find any words at the time adequate to express my amazement at such a statement, so I did not say anything. Well, this setting of Psalm 15 is my rebuttal that I wish I would have remembered at that moment. (11.21.17)

VIDEO: They Who Do Justice by David Haas

This essay is an adapted excerpt from I Will Bring You Home: Songs of Prayer, Stories of Faith by David Haas (G-9617).  Copyright © 2018 GIA Publications, Inc. / www.giamusic.com.  Printed with permission.  All rights reserved.

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