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

Psalm 40: 2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10

The responsorial psalm for this week comes from Psalm 40. Our passage for today focuses on 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.

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 waiting 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.

“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.

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

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

The passage ends with the psalmist standing before the worshiping assembly (qahal) and publicly proclaiming the wondrous acts of salvation that God has accomplished. Such witnessing not only proclaims the goodness of God, but it can also inspire others within the community to turn to God with the same kind of expectant hope and patient trust so that they too may enjoy deliverance by God.

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