Psalm for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Psalm 107: 23-24, 25-26, 28-29, 30-31

This week’s responsorial psalm is from Psalm 107, a hymn inviting those who have been rescued by God to give praise.

In its entirety, the psalm describes four archetypal divine rescues, each ending in thanksgiving: from the sterile desert (v. 4–9), from imprisonment in gloom (v. 10–16), from mortal illness (v. 17–22), and from the angry sea, which is our passage for today (v. 23–32). The number four connotes totality, all the possible varieties of rescue.

They who sailed the sea in ships, trading on the deep waters, these saw the works of the LORD and his wonders in the abyss.

God is praised for having saved seafarers, those who have risked their lives by traversing dangerous waters.

Sea (yām) is the name of one of the Canaanite gods who threaten the order of the world. In many ancient Near Eastern myths, the sea is defeated in the primordial battle by a warrior deity. It is bound but never completely destroyed, and so it remains a constant threat until the end of time, when it will finally be defeated (Revelation 21:1). Until that time, only one with the power of the primordial warrior is able to keep the monster leashed.

In this psalm, those who sail the sea have witnessed the power of the Lord in re-harnessing this threatening force.

His command raised up a storm wind which tossed its waves on high. They mounted up to heaven; they sank to the depths; their hearts melted away in their plight.

The Sea of Galilee is noted for the sudden violent storms that rise without warning, easily catching a boat unaware and tossing it to and fro. Menacing waves can force it up to the height of their crest and dash it just as far down to the depths, casting those in the boat into a panic, afraid for their lives.

The psalmist uses this well-known experience as a metaphor to describe the plight of those who find themselves overwhelmed by the circumstances of life. They are like those who are cast about in the sea.

They cried to the LORD in their distress; 

The faith of the people can be seen in their cry to the LORD. They knew where to turn in their distress. There was no question about their vulnerability and need for rescue. They were facing an adversary with cosmic force, and they knew they were helpless before it.

from their straits he rescued them, he hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled.

The description of the rescue is as dramatic as the depiction of the storm. With no effort at all, the LORD quells the fury as one would hush a restless babe in swaddling bands (Job 38:9). By the power of God, the savage gale is reduced to a gentle breeze. The mythical monster of the deep is no match for God. 

They rejoiced that they were calmed, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the LORD for his kindness and his wondrous deeds to the children of men.

In the final scene, those who have been delivered from the danger of the sea are filled with joy and gratitude and brought safely to harbor. Once again the LORD has demonstrated the kindness (hesed) that flows from the covenant bond. Committed to these people, God has not left them in distress.

This is certainly reason for praising God and giving thanks!

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