Psalm for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Psalm 40: 2, 4, 7-10

The responsorial psalm for this week comes from Psalm 40, a song of praise and a prayer for help.

Our passage for today is from the thanksgiving portion of this psalm, which contains three main themes: gratitude for being rescued from some kind of difficulty; dedication to God who is the savior; and personal witness in the midst of the community.

The Letter to the Hebrews (10:5-9) quotes the somewhat different Greek version of this psalm, interpreting it as Christ’s self-oblation.

I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.

The passage begins with a report of the psalmist’s past deliverance by God. Though in distress, the psalmist waited in expectant hope and with patient trust.

And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God.

Hearing the cry for help, God first stooped down and drew the suffering believer out of the troubling situation, and then put a new song into the psalmist’s mouth — a song in response to this new action of God (Psalm 33:3, 96:1, 144:9, 149:1).

In other words, the former lament or cry for help was heard and was now replaced by a grateful song of praise. Giving thanks is not purely a human response but is itself a divine gift.

Sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, “Behold I come.”

The psalm stipulates the precise mode of thanksgiving: not the customary sacrificial rituals that form the basis of the cultic tradition, but open and enthusiastic proclamation of the salvation just experienced.

(The rituals included a sacrifice or communal meal that was part of the festival of thanksgiving; a burnt offering presented as an act of homage to God; a holocaust or burnt offering of an entire animal; and a sin offering, which was a sacrifice of expiation.)

This apparent dismissal of the ritual should not be seen as a repudiation of the sacrificial system. Instead, it indicates that a deeper commitment is required here; namely, total readiness to do God’s will.

“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me, to do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!”

Public worship, as important as it is, can become mere external ceremony. What God wants is an ear that is open to obedience and a willingness to delight in God’s law, an interior commitment that will result in a life of righteousness and faithful worship.

For other references to the idea that obedience is better than sacrifice, see 1 Samuel 15:22, Isaiah 1:10-20, Hosea 6:6, Amos 5:22-25, Micah 6:6-8, Acts 7:42-43.

The reference to a scroll on which mention is made of the psalmist might suggest that the psalmist is in fact the king. Kings were given a copy of the Law at their coronation as a sign that it was their duty to follow the Law in their work of government (Deuteronomy 17:18-20; 2 Kings 11:12). His mission is that of keeping the Law of the LORD.

I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.

In addition to keeping the Law, the psalmist is aware that it is his mission to proclaim before all the people (qahal, the “vast assembly”) that the LORD is the God of the Covenant.

Publicly proclaiming the wondrous acts of salvation that God has accomplished not only extols the goodness of God, it can also inspire others to turn to God with the same kind of expectant hope so that they may also enjoy deliverance by God.

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