Psalm 32: 1-2, 5, 11
This week’s responsorial psalm comes from the first section of Psalm 32, an individual blessing. It is the second of seven psalms that the Church designates as Penitential Psalms, in which we celebrate the happiness of a person who is conscious that their sins have been forgiven by God after confession. This designation dates from the 7th century AD for psalms suitable to express repentance; the others are Psalms 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143.
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 actually 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 psalmist acknowledges that he has personal experience of God’s forgiveness, offering it as an example for others to follow.
The fact that he uses the very same vocabulary found in the macarisms indicates that the description of those who are “blessed” is really a personal testimony of his own experience of sin, repentance, and forgiveness.
The psalmist knows from his own experience that all believers will obtain pardon if they have recourse to the LORD, no matter how severe their circumstances may be.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you just; exult, all you upright of heart.
The passage ends with an exhortation to act wisely and to rejoice in the LORD. Just as the psalm began with the theme of happiness, so it closes with exultation.