Psalm 31: 2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25
The responsorial psalm for this week is from Psalm 31, a lament with a strong emphasis on trust. It is a mixture of prayers, praises, and professions of confidence in God in the midst of great anxiety and suffering. In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
The passage opens with the psalmist’s conviction that there is refuge in God. We will see later in the reading that he is fleeing some kind of peril and turns to God as a sanctuary in this flight.
let me never be put to shame.
The psalmist’s first concern is shame. This is not an inner attitude or state of mind; it is a public disgrace. In many Eastern societies, it is referred to even today as “losing face.” This kind of shame is the opposite of possessing honor, an attribute that, in the psalmist’s culture, is more important than riches. A man without honor is an outcast in society, and for many people, death is preferred to such disgrace.
We are not told the initial cause of the psalmist’s loss of honor. In a society that believed suffering was the consequence of wickedness, it could have been almost any kind of misfortune.
In your justice rescue me.
The psalmist appeals to God’s justice, or righteousness, which shows the covenant relationship that he shares with God. It also suggests the psalmist is innocent of any wrongdoing, as he would hardly call on God’s justice if were guilty in any way.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
In Luke 23:46, Jesus breathes his last with this verse. In Acts 7:59, Saint Stephen alludes to these words as he is attacked by enemies. This verse is also used as an antiphon in the Divine Office at Compline, the last prayer of the day.
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
Even in the midst of his seemingly inescapable suffering, the psalmist’s faith does not waver. He has complete confidence in God.
For all my foes I am an object of reproach, a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends; they who see me abroad flee from me.
The description of his shame is a collage of metaphors that characterize his disgrace. He is an object of reproach, a laughingstock, a dread. He is shamed before everyone: enemies, neighbors, even friends.
I am forgotten like the unremembered dead;
Whatever misfortune has caused the psalmist’s loss of honor, he was regarded as someone who was not only dead but who was then forgotten. Since in this culture at this time, the only way an individual could survive after death was in the memory of the living, to be forgotten was doubly deplorable.
I am like a dish that is broken.
This is a common comparison for something ruined and useless (see Isaiah 30:14; Jeremiah 19:11; 22:28). The psalmist is treated like a broken dish, not only shattered but also discarded.
But my trust is in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God. In your hands is my destiny; rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.”
What will reinstate the psalmist’s honor is vindication, something only God can accomplish. Only God can show that the psalmist was innocent in the first place.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
Since the face identifies the person and reflects the attitudes and sentiments of that person, seeing the face of God would be a kind of divine manifestation. However, the psalmist is probably not asking for such a revelation, but rather for the light that comes from God’s face. In other words, he is asking for God’s good pleasure.
save me in your kindness.
More covenant language. The psalmist appeals to God’s lovingkindness (hesed), a technical term describing covenant loyalty.
It is clear that this relationship is the reason for his confidence; it is why he flees to God.
Take courage and be stouthearted, all you who hope in the LORD.
The passage closes with an exhortation to others to trust in God as he has. To the end, his confidence will not be swallowed up by any disgrace he might have to endure.