Psalm for the 4th Sunday of Easter (B)

Psalm 118: 1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29

The responsorial psalm for this week is from Psalm 118, a song in praise of God’s power and victory.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.

The song begins and ends with the same summons to give thanks to God. This forms an inclusio, also known as bracketing — a literary device used to highlight an important theme.

The psalmist addresses a group of believers, reminding them of God’s faithfulness and calling them to give thanks.

The word translated as “mercy” is hesed, the technical covenant term for God’s steadfast love for his covenant partners, the chosen people of Israel. The psalmist maintains that such love will last forever. This is indeed reason to give thanks!

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.

This is wisdom instruction, which teaches what has been observed or learned from experience. The two proverbs in the comparative “better … than” form insist that trust in God far exceeds trust in mere human beings even in powerful princes.

I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me and have been my savior.

This verse is a kind of refrain that will be repeated in verse 28. It’s different from the rest of the responsorial in that it is a personal prayer of thanksgiving addressed directly to God rather than a testimony of God’s goodness addressed to the community.

The psalmist is proclaiming, based on his personal experience, that God is indeed faithful to covenant promises made.

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). Jesus was rejected by the Jewish authorities but ultimately became the cornerstone of God’s saving power, so that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

By the LORD has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.

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.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD; we bless you from the house of the LORD.

A second wisdom form appears. Called a “macarism” from the Greek word for “bless,” it points out the religious significance of something that, because it may not conform to social customs, might otherwise elude our attention.

Like the Beatitudes, which are somewhat counter-cultural, macarisms give us God’s point of view, not that of human beings. The one who comes in the name of the LORD is blessed or happy, regardless of what the surrounding society may think. Once again, this is God’s judgment, not human judgment.

The reference to the community blessing God “from the house of the LORD” indicates that this song is part of a liturgical assembly.

I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me and have been my savior. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his kindness endures forever.

The responsorial psalm ends with the thanksgiving refrain (repeated from verse 21) and the summons to give thanks that close the brackets of the inclusio.

Having described the goodness of God, immense gratitude is the only fitting response.

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