Doctor Foster, Gloucester, and Psalm 22

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,                                                                                          In a shower of rain;                                                                                                                   He stepped in a puddle,                                                                                                      Right up to his middle,                                                                                                           And never went there again.                                                                                    (Nursery Rhyme, c.1844)

Suppose a man was walking down a street one day in torrential rain. The road has become like a river. As he crosses the road, the ground opens up beneath him; a sink hole had developed under the swollen waters. Plunging down through the water to chest height he lands on a craggy, uneven surface. His leg is broken in several places.

Later in hospital, he is in pain and drugged up to the eyeballs. His mouth is dry and speech is difficult.

A small group come in to visit him. As they pull up chairs to sit beside him, he tries to speak but his lips are cracked. He can see their concern and, feeling a bit of a fool, he thinks to lighten the mood.

“Doctor Foster went to Gloucester” he utters. He trusts they will enjoy the irony and share the humour of the moment.

But the group of visitors turn and start talking among themselves. “That’s outrageous” one says. “How dare this doctor just abandon him” says another. “His doctor must’ve started treatment and then just left him and gone off to Gloucester”.

Imagine the patient’s frustration. The link to the rhyme was obvious, surely.

But they’ve gone and zoomed in on the words uttered. They’ve taken literally what was merely an opening line to something else, to something highly relevant. They were supposed to recognise it. They were supposed to follow it through so they would get the joke.

Travel back 2000 years to Christ on the cross. His hands and feet pierced, he has been mocked, and they have just cast lots for his garments. His words can only be few. His lips are cracked, his throat dried up, and every breath is agony.

And so, sandwiched between prayers to his loving heavenly Father, he calls out the opening line of the achingly detailed prophetic Psalm 22.

And what do we do.

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