Psalm for the 3rd Sunday of Easter (B)

Psalm 4: 2, 4, 7-8, 9

The responsorial psalm for this week is from Psalm 4, an individual lament emphasizing trust in God. The petition is based on the psalmist’s vivid experience of God as savior.

When I call, answer me, O my just God, you who relieve me when I am in distress; have pity on me, and hear my prayer!

The passage opens with the psalmist in great distress, turning to God and pleading for relief. The innocence of the petitioner is implied when God is described as being just, since justice requires that innocence be recognized.

A relationship seems to have been already established, for there is a reference to past instances of God’s deliverance. Relying on the blessings of that past, the psalmist entreats God to act again in the same protective manner, to intervene on the psalmist’s behalf.

Know that the LORD does wonders for his faithful one; the LORD will hear me when I call upon him.

For a moment, the psalmist addresses others nearby. To them he testifies the same faith and confidence that formed the initial prayer. This faith and confidence are based both on his personal innocence and on divine trustworthiness.

The psalmist claims to be numbered among the faithful ones (hāsîd), that is, one who has been loyal to the covenant relationship. It is such loyalty that guarantees God’s favor. This conviction is based on the theory of retribution, which holds that the good will be rewarded while the evil will be punished. If this principle holds true, the psalmist will certainly be heard, for one can be sure that God will answer the prayers of a hāsîd.

O LORD, let the light of your countenance shine upon us! 

The psalmist again addresses God. This time the supplication includes others as well. The appeal for God’s favor is taken from the ancient blessing of the high priest Aaron (Numbers 6:25f). The image suggests that God’s face lights up with pleasure at the sight of the righteous. To look favorably on someone is to bestow blessing. The psalmist prays for this blessing for all.

You put gladness into my heart.

“Heart” is one of the richest biblical terms. Although on occasion it does denote the actual physical organ, it usually refers either to the totality of one’s inner nature or to one of the three traditional personality functions: emotion, thought, or will. Virtually every immaterial act is attributed to the heart.

Therefore, the declaration “you put gladness into my heart” is an affirmation of the fullness of joy the psalmist experiences as a result of his relationship with God.

As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling.

This joy is accompanied by the assurance of security. The psalmist can lie down in peace (shālôm) and sleep, confident in God’s ever-present watchful care.

There is no indication that the distress of the psalmist has been diminished; rather, the verses highlight the psalmist’s change in mind and heart. Confidence in God fills one with gladness and calms fears and anxieties, making sleep possible.

These closing words serve as a very suitable prayer for nighttime; as such, they are included in the nighttime prayer of the Divine Office.

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