Psalm for the 2nd Sunday of Lent (B)

Psalm 116: 10, 15, 16-17, 18-19

The responsorial psalm for this week is from Psalm 116, a hymn of thanksgiving. The psalm moves from faithfulness in the faith 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.

The previous verse is linked with an acknowledgment of God’s concern for the fate of the righteous (hāsîdîm). Despite how others may interpret their plight, their death is precious; that is, of inestimable value.

Both verses suggest a situation that conflicts with a traditional understanding of retribution, which suggests that the faithful should not be afflicted and the righteous should not have to face a wretched death.

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 in the servant metaphor and its parallel “son of your handmaid.” Although the first image has taken on a profound theological connotation (servant of God), the second clearly identifies both images as classifications within a structured household.

Like a slave that has 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.

A slave born into a household (“son of your handmaid”) had neither a justified claim to, nor any guaranteed likelihood of, emancipation. However, 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 rest of the passage draws the outlines of a ritual of thanksgiving. Included in such a ritual are a confession of praise, a call on God, and the taking of vows.

The actual 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, thereby proclaiming before all the people God’s salvific presence. Vows that are made in time of distress are later fulfilled during the tôdâ.

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.

The sacredness of the ceremony is underscored by the fact that it takes place within the setting of a liturgical assembly, in the holy city of Jerusalem within the courts of the temple.

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