Psalm 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24
The responsorial psalm for this week is from Psalm 118, a song of thanksgiving that seems to be part of a liturgical celebration.
Let the house of Israel say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let those who fear the LORD say, “His mercy endures forever.”
The psalm begins with a threefold call to give testimony to the goodness of God. The “house of Israel” designates the people of the covenant; the “house of Aaron” refers to the priesthood; “those who fear the LORD” is probably a reference to “god-fearers,” or proselytes of non-Israelite origin (see Psalm 115:9-11). Presumably the leader of the liturgical assembly calls out to the members of each respective group, and they in turn declare God’s faithfulness.
The communal character of these sentiments suggests that the people have been saved from some kind of national enemy. God’s goodness and mercy toward the house of Israel are made manifest in this victory.
The Hebrew word for mercy (hesed) is a technical theological term denoting God’s steadfast love for those in covenant with God. The psalmist maintains that such love will last forever. This is indeed reason to give thanks!
I was hard pressed and was falling, but the LORD helped me. My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior.
The voice changes to that of an individual, testifying to a time when the psalmist was under great duress, suffering at the hands of others and being overpowered. In the face of this oppression, God stepped in and saved the psalmist from ultimate defeat.
The psalmist acknowledges his deliverance and then proclaims an individual song of praise, using the language of one of Israel’s oldest hymns of victory (Exodus 15:2).
The joyful shout of victory in the tents of the just.
The rescue of the individual is linked to the salvation of the entire community, the righteous who live in tents.
This reference to tents could be another allusion to the Exodus experience and the sojourn in the wilderness, or to the Feast of Tabernacles, when the people remembered and celebrated this emancipation and sojourn. Whichever the case may be, the should of victory proclaims the deliverance of the people.
The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
The final image is the metaphor of reversal of fortunes, found so often in religious literature. The situation is always the same: A righteous person is rejected, sometimes even persecuted, by other members of the community. When God steps in to correct this unjust situation, the righteous one is not only vindicated but is also elevated to a position of great importance.
In this psalm, the stone that was rejected becomes the very foundation of the entire building. It’s not clear to whom this metaphor of the cornerstone refers. However, as the verses of this psalm are arranged for our liturgical use, it seems that the speaker who survived the threat of death is the referent. This salvation was brought about by God, and it is recognized as a marvel for which to give praise and thanks.
The New Testament interprets this verse as referring to the death and resurrection of Christ (Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11).
By the LORD has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.
Throughout this account of suffering and salvation, it’s very clear that deliverance and exaltation are the works of God and not the accomplishments of human beings. This saving act may have happened to an individual, but the entire congregation has witnessed it and marvels at it.
The redemption at the hand of the LORD leaves us in awe.