Psalm for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Psalm 78: 3-4, 23-24, 25, 54

The responsorial psalm for this week describes the practice of handing stories down from generation to generation, a practice that is found in every society. Its purpose is the preservation of the traditions that shape the identity and ethos of the people, giving them a sense of who they are by reminding them of the founding and formative events of their past. They, in turn, will transmit these traditions to their descendants.

This is a very serious undertaking, for it is precisely in the handing down of traditions that the identity of the group is preserved.

What we have heard and know, and what our fathers have declared to us, we will declare to the generation to come the glorious deeds of the LORD and his strength and the wonders that he wrought.

The essence of Israel’s recital of history is the proclamation of the glorious deeds of the LORD, as they have been received from previous generations.

We will see that chief among these glorious deeds are the events that surrounded the deliverance from Egypt, the sojourn in the wilderness, and the entrance into the land of promise.

The specific verses that make up the responsorial psalm concentrate on the incident of the manna and the entrance into the land.

He commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven; he rained manna upon them for food and gave them heavenly bread. Man ate the bread of angels, food he sent them in abundance. 

The psalmist adds something to the earlier manna tradition (Exodus 16:4), here describing God as exercising authority over the heavens. This is a significant point since in the ancient world different deities wielded power over the respective segments of the cosmos. The God of Israel would have to enjoy supreme authority to be able to govern the heavens as well as direct the fortunes of the people themselves.

This is exactly what this reference is implying: the God of Israel is sovereign.

And he brought them to his holy land, to the mountains his right hand had won.

The passage ends with the people established in the holy land. The mountain is probably Zion, the hill upon which the temple was built. The people have been brought to God’s land, to God’s holy mountain.

The recital of all these wonders is meant to remind the people of who they have become because of what they have experienced. It is further intended to challenge them to live in the present as a people faithful to who they are so they can hand down their noble identity to the next generation.

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