Psalm for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Psalm 116: 1-6, 8-9

The responsorial psalm for this week is from Psalm 116, an individual prayer of thanksgiving. (It appears as Psalm 114 in the Greek and Latin Bibles.)

In it, God is praised for having rescued the psalmist from death.

I love the LORD because he has heard my voice in supplication, because he has inclined his ear to me the day I called.

This is the only psalm that begins with the words “I love the Lord,” inspired no doubt by the commandments in Deuteronomy to “love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12, etc.).

The psalmist loves the Lord not so much because he has granted a specific favor or blessing, but because he is sure that God listens to him and takes care of him.

The cords of death encompassed me; 

The ancients believed that death was an elemental force that could take possession of people at any time, undermining their lives and draining them of their vitality. Whenever they were stricken with an ailment, regardless of the seriousness of its nature, they concluded that death had some kind of hold on them.

Illness wasn’t the only way death could intrude into their lives; serious trouble could also jeopardize them and put their lives at risk. Actually, they believed that death was present in anything that weakened life. While still alive, people can wage war against death and enjoy small partial victories, but in the end, death will be triumphant.

the snares of the netherworld seized upon me.

Death is placed in parallel construction with the netherworld, the abode of the dead: sheol (Hebrew) / hades (Greek) / purgatorio (Latin).

I fell into distress and sorrow, and I called upon the name of the LORD, “O LORD, save my life!”

The overwhelming distress of the psalmist prompts him to cry out to the LORD.

Gracious is the LORD and just; yes, our God is merciful. The LORD keeps the little ones; I was brought low, and he saved me.

After describing his suffering, the psalmist’s mood shifts from despair to grateful praise. God is acclaimed as gracious, just, and merciful, all qualities that characterize God’s covenantal relationship with the people. These are the very qualities that inspired the psalmist’s confidence and devotion.

For he has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living.

Having trusted that God would listen to the prayer of those who are suffering, the psalmist has now experienced God’s saving power and illustrates this in three ways:

  • First, the soul is freed from death. Here, “soul” does not refer to the indestructible component of human nature as found in ancient Greek philosophy; instead, it is the life force (nephesh) that makes a person a living being.
  • Next, the eyes are freed from tears, from the grief and sorrow that accompany suffering.
  • Finally, the feet are freed from stumbling. The psalmist is now on sure footing, secure in the salvation that has been granted by God.

It’s no wonder that the psalmist breaks out in a song of thanksgiving!

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