Psalm for the 1st Sunday of Lent (B)

Psalm 25:4-9

The responsorial psalm for this week is from Psalm 25, a prayer for forgiveness and guidance, written in acrostic form.

This psalm calls to mind the fact that God’s saving action requires a response. Having been saved, what responsibilities do we now have? How should we live so as not to fall back into the situation from which we were saved? If God is just, what kind of lives should we be living? The psalmist’s answer comes in the form of a petition to God: Teach me your ways.

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;

The word “way” has a very close association with the Wisdom tradition and refers to a manner of living, specifically the way of righteousness or the way or evil. The term often designates movement or direction on a road rather than the road itself. Here it could refer to a style of life.

teach me your paths,

“Path” appears in parallel construction with “way” and also refers to a style of life. When this expression is used in reference to God, it can mean either God’s own ways of acting or the ways God teaches humankind to follow. This psalm seems to allow for both meanings.

guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.

The psalmist asks the Lord to instruct him in his ways, for it is from God that salvation comes.

Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your love are from of old. The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not; in your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.

Covenant language is very strong in this second stanza. “Compassion” comes from the word ráham and might be translated “womb-love.” It refers to a deep and loving attachment, usually between two people who share some kind of natural bond. “Love” is loving-kindness (hesed), which denotes loyalty to covenant obligations.

Notice how the psalmist pleas for God to remember his covenant, then immediately asks for God to remember not his sins and frailties. This is the psalmist’s way of asking God’s forgiveness.

Good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.

The final stanza comments on the righteousness of God, which is attentive to both the sinners and anawim (the humble). These groups are seen on the same plane: the humble person is one who acknowledges his sin to the Lord.

In this context, “the way of the LORD” can either be interpreted as the way God responds to the people in light of their merits or as the manner of living God expects of humankind. If the latter, it is probably a reference to the Law, for it is there the will of God is to be found. In that case, the psalmist would then be asking for guidance to discern God’s will in order to live in accord with it.

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