Psalm for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Psalm 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35

The responsorial psalm for this week comes from Psalm 69, a lament complaining of suffering. Despite the circumstances, the psalmist maintains hope that all will be set right. Thus, the correlation with our first reading from Jeremiah is very clear.

Unfortunately, crying out to God in grief or sorrow is not something we are accustomed to doing or hearing from others. Perhaps some think it is unseemly or disrespectful to complain to God; however, a lament is a statement of profound faith. It acknowledges that God has power over the circumstances of life, and it is an expression of humble faith that God will come to the aid of those who cry out.

For your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my mother’s children,

The passage opens with an outline of the reasons for the lament.

The psalmist suffers reproach and shame as well as family alienation, and all for the sake of God. This is a serious matter in a society structured on kin relationships and strongly influenced by questions of honor and shame.

Because zeal for your house consumes me, the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.

“Zeal for your house” could be an expression of profound personal devotion or a commitment to cleansing the Temple of all the sinful practices that have defamed it. Since personal devotion is seldom the cause of the kind of suffering the psalmist describes, it is probably the latter. This is substantiated by the mention of others blaspheming God.

I pray to you, O LORD, for the time of your favor, O God! In your great kindness answer me with your constant help. Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is your kindness; in your great mercy turn toward me.

Here we have the cry of the lament itself, which contains several words closely associated with the theme of covenant. The technical covenant term for lovingkindness (hesed) appears twice. We also find truth (ěmet), salvation (yēsha, translated as “constant help”), and passionate love (rahămîm), love like that of a woman for the child of her womb.

By crying out with this language, the psalmist is bringing the strength and the personal dimension of the covenant to the plea for deliverance. This isn’t merely someone who has fallen on hard times, this is a member of the covenanted community. Surely God will turn an understanding ear to this plea.

“See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.

Covenant theology includes a promise by God to care for the needy, and the responsibility of humans to care for one another. Israel believed that when someone within the covenant community was disadvantaged and not cared for by other members of the community, God would step in and redress the imbalance.

The psalmist seems to be counting on a display of such divine justice.

Let the heavens and the earth praise him, the seas and whatever moves in them!”

Confidence in God’s faithfulness to covenant promises and hearing the plea for deliverance is evidence of the psalmist’s faith. Even before there are clear signs of deliverance, the psalmist praises God, thus fittingly concluding this powerful hymn of lamentation and confidence.

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