Psalm for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Psalm 119: 57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130

This week’s psalm glorifies the Law of the LORD. The longest psalm by far in the Psalter, it praises God for giving such splendid laws and instruction for the people to live by.

In its entirety, the psalm is acrostic: its twenty-two stanzas of eight verses each are in the order of the Hebrew alphabet. Each of the eight verses within a stanza begins with the same letter, and each verse contains one word for “instruction” (tôrâ).  The creative genius of the psalmist is seen in the innovative ways in which the Law is extolled, each verse expressing a slightly different idea.

I have said, O LORD, that my part is to keep your words.
The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

The distribution of land was an important concept in Israelite thinking, which can be seen in the earliest accounts of the allotment of land to the various tribes (Joshua 13-21). Land gave people not only a sense of security and belonging, it also gave them their identity as a people.

Here, in poetic expression, God rather than land is said to be the cherished portion. Obedience to the Law, not the reception of land, is the reason for the people’s security and sense of belonging, as well as their identity.

Let your kindness comfort me according to your promise to your servants.
Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight.

We miss the true meaning of the Law if we do not situate it squarely within the theology of the covenant. Doing this, we can then appreciate the goodness of God, who has not only invited us into covenant but has also shown us how we can faithfully live out his covenant commitment.

As we have seen again and again, both lovingkindness (hesed) and compassion (rahămîm) are intimately associated with covenant.

For I love your command more than gold, however fine.
For in all your precepts I go forward; every false way I hate.

The Law is more precious than fine gold, because it secures for us much more than mere worldly possessions. It provides us with reliable direction on the way to live, thus ensuring us a right relationship with God and the blessings that flow from it.

Wonderful are your decrees; therefore I observe them.
The revelation of your words sheds light,
giving understanding to the simple.

The Law is the treasure of all people, wise and simple alike. All are invited to follow it and to attain the favors it promises. All are enlightened by the wonders it contains.

It is clear from this psalm that the Law is anything but a burden. Rather it is a trusted guide from God, a treasure beyond compare.

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