Psalm for the 5th Sunday of Easter (B)

Psalm 22: 26-27, 28, 30, 31-32

This week our responsorial psalm comes from Psalm 22, which is a combination of a lament and a hymn of thanksgiving. Today’s verses are from the hymn of thanksgiving.

I will fulfill my vows before those who fear the LORD.

The psalmist gives thanks within the setting of a believing community, “those who fear the LORD.” While such fear may imply terror before the awesomeness of divine power, in the wisdom tradition it denotes piety and reverential obedience. The context of worship suggests that the latter meaning is intended here.

The vow referred to was a kind of thanksgiving offering — a verbal promise to perform some act of service of God, to make an offering, or to abstain from something as a response to a blessing received from God.

The lowly shall eat their fill;

The nature of the vow is not revealed, but this verse suggests that it has something to do with a meal to which the poor are invited.

they who seek the LORD shall praise him: “May your hearts live forever!” All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; all the families of the nations shall bow down before him.

The blessings are not limited to the psalmist, and the praise they engender will come from all who seek the LORD. This circle of devotees moves out from the assembly of believers to all the ends of the earth and to all the families of nations.

The boundlessness of God’s blessing is clearly seen. There is no ethnocentrism or religious chauvinism here; rather, the universal reign of the one God is sketched.

To him alone shall bow down all who sleep in the earth; before him shall bend all who go down into the dust.

It is very difficult to give an exact translation of this verse. It could be read as meaning that the dead, too, will join in the praise that the psalmist offers, indicating that the scope of God’s reign even stretches beyond life into the realm of the dead. This would be a departure from elsewhere in the psalms (e.g., Psalm 6:6 and Psalm 115:17), where God is presented as the God of the living and the realm of the dead was still not included.

Alternatively, this verse could mean that those who are rich and self-sufficient will be humbled before God at the moment of death.

And to him my soul shall live; my descendants shall serve him. 

The scope of praise extends even further. The circle of believers also includes future generations, descendants yet to be born. Thus past (the dead), present (the current assembly and the families of the nations), and future are all included in the realm of God, all enjoy God’s blessings, and all offer praise and give thanks.

Let the coming generation be told of the LORD that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born the justice he has shown.

The psalm ends with an exhortation to hand down from generation to generation the tradition of the righteousness of God, a righteousness that shows itself in providential care and blessing.

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