Jesus Discusses the Mystical Psalm Structures
Throughout the New Testament
The Mystical Psalm Structures, which are found in the Book of Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), are referred to in all the Gospels, and most epistles, of the New Testament. But in hidden ways. Also, The New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles and Book of Revelation discuss the Mystical Psalm Structures, again, in hidden ways. Jesus is often the one who is alluding to them. (A question for another paper: Is Jesus the one who taught his disciples about the Mystical Psalm Structures?)
Today, 29 October 16, in the calendar of the Church, is Saturday of the 30th Week of Ordinary Time. The liturgical year will conclude at the end of November, and the new liturgical year will start with the First Sunday of Advent.
Today’s readings are wonderful, and the Gospel shows how the New Testament is loaded with (hidden) conscious knowledge of the Mystical Psalm Structures.
Let’s skip over the first reading and go the Responsorial Psalm, which is from Psalm 42. The number “42” is a multiple of 21, and of 6. Therefore, Psalm 42 is both a Pillar Psalm and a Ladder Psalm, respectively. Only Psalms 84 and 126 share this particular multiplicity of connection with Psalm 42 (notice that the number “42” is a factor of both 84 and 126). This essay discusses these:
Psalm 42 begins with a stunning image: “As the deer longs for streams of running water, so my soul longs for you, O God.” The poem-prayer-song continues, “My soul thirsts for God, the Living God. When can I see the face of God?” It is interesting that when the thirsty deer finally reaches water, they’ll see a reflection, a face similar to their own therein. (In the first reading today, Paul desires God.) The Israelites prayed this Psalm when they met the Babylonians in Babylon during the Babylonian Captivity. Initially, they hated the Babylonians.
However, when the Israelites left Babylon about 70 years later, they loved the Babylonians. This is depicted in Psalm 126; in this Psalm, the Israelites reflect and share words, memory, and Scripture with the Babylonians. Who would have thought that the ancient Israelites were the world’s first missionaries? God is bold. God’s wondrous plans, often confusing when we’re living through their initial stages, are lovingly concerned with the well-being of every human soul in history. Um, even if we all have some rough times on the way. Psalm 147 is the final Pillar Psalm. It says that God’s wise-understanding is beyond numbering, beyond calculation. Although we humans cannot understand all of it, we can grow in our capacity to understand significant portions of it.
The Gospel today is amazing. It is a scene at the banquet that occurs in Luke 14. In the middle of the scene is a TABLE:
“On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, “Give your place to this man,” and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, “My friend, move up to a higher position.” Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted’.”
As with Psalms 42, 84, and 126, there are spatial journeys, comings and goings, although in this Gospel, the voyage seems to be of vastly lesser distances: places at a table.
Something is not sitting well with me here. I feel an intellectual discomfort, or a deeper discomfort in my soul, at the words of Jesus.
True, this Gospel has been teaching people about the virtue of humility for 2 millennia.
But there’s something else.
When Jesus says, “Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table,” that bothers me. It does not sound like Jesus. Perhaps Jesus is being mildly sarcastic here. Perhaps the mild sarcasm of Jesus is pointing to something else:
Ah, there it is. Jesus is discussing the angels moving up and down the Ladder. Eureka!
Jesus is talking about the angels flying up and down the Mystical Psalms Ladder. He is painting a verbal picture of this.
The shape of a long table is like the shape of the Mystical Psalms Ladder (see the above link). The movement along the sides of the table, including the lowest and higher places, is like the motion of the angels on the Ladder; in fact, the motion of the angels’ flight starts at the lowest place on the Ladder, Psalm 12, which is where the action of the Lucan parable also makes a visit.
First, a couple of connected realities:
-Psalm 128 shows one of the most beautiful pictures in the Bible. It is a family gathered around the table. The children are described as shoots of olive trees, young trees growing up towards heaven, uniting heaven and earth. There is love in the home.
Indeed, with Psalm 128’s additional imagery of “wife,” and “vine,” there is a picture of a restored, improved, future Eden. Paradise. Psalm 128 is neither a Pillar Psalm nor a Ladder Psalm; it is, however, a Menorah Psalm. The Mystical Psalm Menorahs celebrate the beauty of the human family, and of a united, evolving Humanity. Psalm 128 may be the most important Psalm in the Psalter (Book of Psalms), perhaps even more important than Psalm 84. Like Psalm 84, it has multiple cognates of the word “ashre,” which means “happy,” or “blessed.” It is the equivalent of the Greek word “makarios,” which appears later in Luke 14.
-This combined theme of “Ladder” and “table fellowship” is also present at Jesus’ Resurrection appearances:
-In Mark 16, the Resurrected Jesus appears to the 11 disciples when they are reclining at table.
-In Luke 24, the identity of the Resurrected Jesus is made known to the 2 disciples walking with him when he blessed and broke the bread at table with them that evening. Along the way, Jesus had been explaining mysteries of the Bible to them, and their hearts were burning. Right after their encounter, the “Psalms” are mentioned. This appearance of the word “Psalms” is very interesting. Some background: The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) are made of three groups of texts: the Torah (the 5 Books of Moses), the Prophets, and the Ketuvim (the Writings, which include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Chronicles). Jesus alludes to this three-part grouping of the Scriptures (Luke 24:44). But he removes the word “Ketuvim,” the “Writings,” and replaces it with the word “Psalms!” This puts a very strong emphasis on the Psalms. Just 4 chapters earlier, at Luke 20:42, for perhaps the first time in history, the Psalms are called the “Book of Psalms,” uniting them into an intentional volume. Luke, a few chapters later in his next book, the Acts of the Apostles, will again refer to the Psalms as the “Book of Psalms” (Acts 1:20).
Did the Resurrected Jesus explain to his disciples the Mystical Psalm Structures?
-Additionally, in John 21, a chapter that was added some years later to John’s Gospel, there is a remarkable catch of 153 large fish. It is interesting that the fish were counted. It is also interesting that there are 150 Psalms. A forthcoming essay shall discuss John 21.
-Here is another beautiful image, and it begins at Revelation 22:1. It is the final image of the Bible. From the discussion thus far, we see how the New Testament’s partially hidden incorporation of the Ladder into vital scenes has always to do with community, and it helps lift the family table of Psalm 128 into such a discussion.
The final image of the Bible is in Chapter 22 of the Apocalypse. The word “Apocalypse” in Greek simply means the “unveiling.” Another title for the book is “Revelation.”
The heavenly Jerusalem has begun to be discussed in the preceding chapter, Chapter 21. She descends from heaven to earth (Ladder imagery) as a bride (Psalm 128 has the only positive appearance of the word “wife/woman” in the entire Book of Psalms).
Paradise will be glorious. No temples will be needed because holiness will be clearly visible. In the connected people. In the community.
There is a river. But this is no ordinary river. More than a millennium before Dante, there is here in Revelation a powerful blending of realities. The river is also a gorgeous street, and is also a mysterious fruit tree. The fruit tree is spectacularly unique. It seems to have 12 parts, and seems to grow on both sides of the river-street. The Greek is wonderfully intentionally inexact here. If the 12 parts of the tree are on both sides of the river-street, with the tree appearing in 24 places, then we have a precise picture of the Mystical Psalms Ladder. And this is the final image of the Bible. And we also have an intentional echo of the powerful image of the gathered family in Psalm 128. (See Rev 22:2)
Paradise is entirely about community: joyful, loving community. All the people in Paradise are members, full members, of this community.
Revelation has many allusions to the Mystical Psalms Ladder. The listing of the 12 tribes is a textual replication of the 12 steps of the Ladder. The 12 strophes discussing the 12 tribes are exactly alike each other, except for the names of the tribes. (See Rev 7:4-8) The number of those to be saved is 144,000, which is 12-squared multiplied by 10-cubed. Obviously, this number is not intended to be literal, but metaphorical—perhaps all of humanity will be together in paradise (eventually). Wouldn’t that be nice.
The Mystical Psalms Ladder has 12 steps. The top rung is made of Psalms 138 and 144. Psalm 150 is centered atop the Ladder, and represents heaven, and contains a word for “heavens.”
Just in case we miss the connection to 144, the number 144 is given to us again in Rev 21:17, discussing the measurements of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Indeed, the entire Book of Revelation is full of allusions to the Mystical Psalm Structures. Perhaps this is the “Key of David” that is discussed at Rev 3:7.
Additionally, if we return to Chapter 14 of Luke’s Gospel, we see much more hidden Psalms imagery.
The chapter begins with a Sabbath question. If your donkey or ox (some manuscripts have “son” in the place of “donkey”) FALLS into a pit, would you not PULL THEM UP? This is a rudimentary rehearsal of the climbing of the Ladder.
Then there is the observation of the political jockeying for higher places at the banquet table. The table-mover, or Ladder-climber, moves both up and down. The Upward motion begins at the lowest point of the table, which corresponds exactly to the Upward motion of the Ladder: The Upward Human or Angelic Flight begins at Psalm 12, on the lowest rung of the Ladder.
[At another level, Jesus is making a critique of hurtful social climbing. It’s interesting that the term “climbing the corporate ladder” is connected with such (often harmful) maneuvering in the business and financial world. One of the things being said here is: concentrate more on building community. Try to love your neighbors in community. Don’t use your fellow human beings as stepping stones. That’s not what they are for.]
In this story there is mention of the Greek words “arche” and “eschaton.” These words can also refer to the beginning (Creation) and the end times (Eschaton). Also, Jesus uses not only horizontal spatial imagery in discussing the table, but also vertical spatial imagery: “Go up higher” (Luke 14:10).
Jesus seems to give the moral of the story in verse 11: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Note, again, the vertical motion of ascent and descent—like what happens on a ladder. St. Benedict founded the main body of Western monasticism about 1500 years ago. In Italy. His monks eventually became members of what is known today as the Benedictine Order, and this community now includes many branches on the family tree: the Cistercians, Trappists, Camaldolese, Olivetans, and more. He wrote a short document called the Brief Rule to help organize the communities. Monasteries still study the Rule closely today, and it is often memorized. There is much Wisdom therein. Chapter 7 has the wonderful “Ladder of Humility.” Like the Psalms Ladder, Benedict’s Ladder of Humility has 12 steps, 2 sides, there is heaven at the top and earth at the bottom, and there are angels flying up and down the ladder. Benedict gives maybe 50 hints that he knows about the Mystical Psalms Ladder, but he refrains from mentioning it overtly. In this chapter from his Brief Rule, a main Scriptural text is this verse of Luke 14:11, about humility and exaltation.
Next in Chapter 14 is the Parable of the Great Dinner. It metaphorically discusses the invitation to the banquet of the Kingdom of God. The first three invitees decline the offer. The first one has just purchased a piece of land, and must go see it. The second one has just purchased 5 yoke of oxen. 5 pairs. This is interesting. There are 5 books of the Torah that are yoked with the 5 books of the Psalms. (Scholars believe that the division of the Psalter into 5 books was done intentionally to mirror the 5 books of the Torah.)
The third invitee has recently been married. The Ladder (Feminine) and Pillar (Masculine) go together in a conjugal way. So we see in this story hidden references to the Mystical Psalm Structures.
Then in Chapter 14, Jesus discusses family, seemingly in an odd perspective. He mentions the word “wife.” Then he says, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” The tower here is like the Pillar of the Psalm Structures. Jesus is here alluding to the fact that the Psalm Structures were planned and overseen by the Holy Spirit, not merely by human redactors/editors. The forthcoming book on the Psalm Structures will discuss this at greater length.
Then Jesus considers a king with 10,000 troops waging a battle, or avoiding such a conflict, with 20,000 troops of the enemy. The numbers “1” from the 10,000 and “2” from the 20,000 are important. The Psalms of the Pillar are the multiples of 21 (“2” and “1” together make “21”). Or, the “1” and the “2” can make “12.” 12 of the 24 (25) Psalms of the Ladder, that is, the 12 Psalms of the left side of the Ladder, are multiples of the number 12.
Jesus may be alluding to something else here too. The name of “David” appears in the body of the 25 Psalms of the Ladder with 429% greater frequency than in the 125 other Psalms of the Psalter. This dislocates the Ladder from Jacob’s ownership. It’s David’s. But only for a moment. Jesus is the “Son of David,” and at John 1:51 accomplishes the transfer of the Ladder to all Humanity.
Back to an earlier point of the Old Testament: 2 Samuel 2 has the Battle of Gibeon. The troops of David, led by Joab, fight the troops of Saul’s son Ishbaal, led by Abner.
Before the main battle is a mini-battle. 12 youth from Joab’s forces form a line against 12 youth from Abner’s forces. 12 against 12, 2 lines, just like the Psalms Ladder! The 12 youth of either side approach each other, grab their opposite, and stab each other. All 24 youth die. This is a sort of Old Testament anti-type, an early image, of the Mystical Psalms Ladder and the River of Life/street/fruit tree of Revelation 22, which is gloriously joyful.
This brief reflection has considered just a few of the appearances of the Mystical Psalm Structures in the New Testament.
Tomorrow, Sunday, in the Gospel, Zacchaeus will climb a tree in Jericho to see Jesus. (Ladders back then were made from wood, from trees.) Jesus will stay in his house that evening. (Recall that the Ladder can also be the temple, the “beit,” the house. In Psalm 128, it is the family home that is the religious center.) In the community, the hundreds of millions, or even billions, of family homes of all people form the joyful centers of the global Human family.