Psalm for the 2nd Sunday of Lent (B)

Psalm 116: 10, 15-19

The responsorial psalm for this week is from Psalm 116, a hymn of thanksgiving. (It appears as Psalm 114 in the Greek and Latin Bibles.)

The psalm moves from faithfulness in the face of distress, through release from servitude from God, to public celebration of thanksgiving for this deliverance. The elements of lament are accompanied by confidence in God’s compassion and gratitude for God’s goodness.

I believed, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted.”

This verse is translated in various ways. Although most English renditions state that the faith of the psalmist remained constant even when he announced that he was in great distress, the Hebrew suggests that it was precisely the constancy of his faith that enabled him to speak of his ordeal.

Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.

For God, the death of those who fear him (i.e., the righteous, hāsîdîm) is a matter of significance, because it is he who watches over their lives. The psalmist sees himself as one of the God-fearing, the “saints.”

The idea that the death of a righteous person would be precious to God conflicts with the traditional understanding of retribution, which suggests that the faithful should not be afflicted and the righteous should not have to face a wretched death.

“Who gave you the cup of salvation, so that by taking it and calling on the name of the Lord, you might repay him for all that he has given to you? Who, if not the one who says: Can you drink the cup of which I must drink? Who has bidden you to imitate his sufferings if not He who has already suffered for you? Moreover, precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his holy ones. He paid the price with his blood, which he poured out for the salvation of his servants, so that they would not hesitate to give their lives for the name of the Lord” (Saint Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 115.5).

O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;

The relationship between the psalmist and God is strikingly characterized with a metaphor of a slave born into a household (“son of your handmaid”). Such a person had neither a justified claim to, nor any guaranteed likelihood of, emancipation. Like a slave with no hope of release, the psalmist was bound to a life of great difficulty.

By using these legal metaphors to characterize his relationship with God, he is dramatizing his own situation.

you have loosed my bonds.

Despite his condition, God looked kindly upon him and loosed him from his servitude.

To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.

The “sacrifice of thanksgiving” mirrors the earlier lifting up of the cup of salvation. This thanksgiving (tôdâ) is a public acclamation of God’s saving action.

The name of God, which is a manifestation of the very essence of God, is called on in the song of thanksgiving, proclaiming before all God’s salvific presence.

My vows to the LORD I will pay in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem.

Vows that are made in a time of distress are later fulfilled during the tôdâ. The sacredness of the ceremony is underscored by the fact that it takes place within the temple, the dwelling place of the Lord.

The psalmist who once faced the prospect of death now stands in the midst of the assembly, humbled and grateful to God.

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