Psalm 32: 1-2, 5, 11
This week’s responsorial psalm comes from the first section of Psalm 32, an individual blessing and the second of the seven Penitential Psalms (the others are Psalms 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). This Christian designation dates from the 7th century AD for psalms suitable to express repentance.
Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered. Blessed the man to whom the LORD imputes not guilt, in whose spirit there is no guile.
The psalm opens with a double macarism (“blessed” or “happy”), a literary form identified with the wisdom tradition. In a unique way, this form highlights something of the value system portrayed in scripture, stating the real basis of happiness as opposed to what was conventionally considered desirable. More frequently than not, macarisms in scripture are quite counter-cultural, challenging the merit of customary aspirations — and that is certainly true here.
The double statement of blessedness introduces a wisdom teaching about the benefits of God’s merciful pardon, something that is valued more highly than prosperity or reputation. In it, the psalmist gives a triple description of sin and of the forgiveness that God grants if there is repentance:
- “Fault” (pesha’) is really rebellion, a rejection of God’s authority.
- Through the mercy of God, this rebellion has been lifted up (nāśā); the burden has been taken from the shoulders of the sinner.
- “Sin” (hătā’â) means failure, or missing the mark. This failure to measure up is covered (kāsâ) by God.
- “Guilt” (‘āwōn) also means iniquity or perversion. God does not judge (hāshab) that one is iniquitous or perverse.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.
The fact that the psalmist uses the very same vocabulary found in the macarisms to describe his own experience indicates that the objective description of those who are “blessed” is really a personal testimony of the psalmist’s own experience of sin, repentance, and forgiveness.
The psalmist’s experience of personal contrition and divine clemency is offered as an example for others to follow.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart.
The passage ends with an exhortation to rejoice. Just as it began with the theme of happiness, so it closes with exultation. As with the discussion about divine mercy, so with this call to rejoice: it only applies to those who are righteous, or upright in heart. If one is just, then rejoicing is not only encouraged, it is probably a spontaneous response to God’s magnanimous mercy.