Psalm for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Psalm 85: 9, 10, 11-12, 13-14

This week’s responsorial psalm comes from Psalm 85, a national lament reminding God of past favors and forgiveness, and begging for forgiveness and grace now.

This particular passage reveals a community waiting for God’s word, a prophetic oracle that will announce peace. There is no direct appeal to God; these verses depict the people awaiting a reply to a plea that must have been made elsewhere. Presumably they are in some form of distress.

There is great expectancy here — the people have done what they can to get God’s attention. The next move is God’s.

I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD—for he proclaims peace to his people.

It seems that the people have suffered a serious setback that they cannot remedy themselves; this possibly refers to the hardships that marked their return from exile. In faith, they have turned to God for help and are now waiting confidently for God’s response.

Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, 

The people are not in total despair. Not only do they believe in salvation, they maintain that the salvation for which they wait is near to them. At least, it is near to those who are faithful.

glory dwelling in our land.

When the Jews returned from exile, they began rebuilding the temple, “that glory may dwell in our land.” This description of those who strive to rebuild the temple is seen in parallel with those who fear the Lord.

Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.

Divine activity is personified as pairs of virtues, all of which are characteristics of a covenantal relationship with God:

  • lovingkindness (hesed) is covenant loyalty,
  • truth is covenant faithfulness,
  • justice is the covenantal righteousness that comes from God,
  • peace is the wholeness or harmony that results from the covenantal relationship.

These virtues are salvific powers; their union (meeting, kissing) is a sign of the time of fulfillment.

Note how the psalmist uses the image of fruit produced by rainfall and the earth’s fertility. From heaven will come forgiveness, and on earth the people will keep their vows. This description of salvation is one of the most beautiful to be found in Scripture.

Many commentators see in these verses the Incarnation of the divine Word, the union of Godhead and human nature in Jesus Christ.

The LORD himself will give his benefits; our land shall yield its increase.

Part of the hoped-for salvation seems to be related to economic prosperity. The people are confident that God will reestablish the wealth of the people and that the land, once barren and forsaken, will yield an abundant harvest.

The situation suggests the conditions of Judea during the early post-exilic period (5th century BC), and the thoughts expressed are similar to those of postexilic prophets (see Haggai 1:5-11, 2:6-9).

Justice shall walk before him, and prepare the way of his steps.

Finally, justice will join the LORD in triumphal procession. This is describing a theophany, a glorious manifestation of God. This revelation of God is itself the salvation for which the people long, for which they wait in confidence.

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