Psalm for the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (ABC)

Psalm 139: 1b-3, 13-15

Today’s responsorial comes from Psalm 139, a devout meditation on God’s omnipresence and omniscience.

When Christians pray this psalm, they can become more aware of their dependence on God, more trustful of him, closer to him through Jesus Christ who “knows what is in a man” (John 2:25), and can experience the inner presence of the Holy Spirit, who “searches everything” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

O LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar.

The psalm begins by acknowledging that God knows everything the psalmist does, expressing confidence in God’s omniscience.

The psalmist references opposites (sit/stand, journey/rest) to create an expression that includes every aspect of waking life. This is similar to the pairs “night and day,” “up and down,” “north and south,” all of which denote totality. In other words, there is nothing about the psalmist’s life that is beyond the ken of God.

Truly you have formed my inmost being; 

God has complete comprehension of every aspect of the psalmist’s life because he is the one who created the psalmist in the first place.

The imagery used to describe the act of creation suggests both tenderness and artistry. The “inmost being” of which the psalmist speaks is translated literally at the kidneys (kilyâ), which were believed to be the seat of profound emotions.

you knit me in my mother’s womb.

The psalmist’s physical being was carefully knit together in the womb or belly (beten) of his mother.

I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works.

The creation of the psalmist himself is considered with the same pious veneration as God’s creation of all at the beginning of time.

My soul also you knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you. When I was made in secret,

Since creation is a personal activity and takes place in secret, the knowledge God has of human beings is privileged knowledge. Only God knows how the psalmist was formed; consequently, God would know whether or not the psalmist is innocent.

when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.

To the image of being formed in the womb, the psalmist adds the idea of being formed in the lowest part of the earth.

Some commentators see here an allusion to chthonic (“under the earth”) mythology. While Israel did not teach that human creation took place within the earth, it certainly insists that it took place from the earth (Genesis 2:7).

Other commentators interpret this as figurative language for the womb, stressing the hidden and mysterious operations that occur there.

Meditating upon the profound truth that God knows our inmost being, and the inmost being of all humanity, can inspire us to holiness and bring us great comfort.

This psalm is also a great complement to our readings for today, which highlight that God’s hand was on the life of John the Baptist from the very beginning.

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