Psalm for the 1st Sunday of Lent (C)

Psalm 91: 1-2, 10-15

The responsorial psalm for this first Sunday of Lent is from Psalm 91, a prayer of someone who has taken refuge in the Lord, possibly within the temple

The psalmist is confident that God’s presence will protect the people in every dangerous situation. The final verses are an oracle of salvation promising salvation to those who trust in God.

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,

“Shelter of the Most High” basically means “hiding place,” but in the Psalms it is a designation for the protected temple precincts (see Psalms 27:5; 31:21; 61:5).

who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

Literally “the shadow of the wings of the Almighty” (see Psalms 17:8; 36:8; 57:2; 63:8). Verse 4 (not included in today’s responsorial) makes clear that the shadow is an image of the safety afforded by the outstretched wings of the cherubim in the holy of holies.

say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.”

When we trust in God and not man, there is no danger of failure or disappointment.

No evil shall befall you, nor shall affliction come near your tent,

Those who trust in the Lord will have divine help to enable them to cope with any difficulty.

for to his angels he has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. 

The forcefulness with which this psalm describes the protection God provides to those who seek him can be seen in Satan’s attempt to use them to tempt Jesus, as portrayed in today’s gospel reading. Satan quotes these verses as he urges Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple (Luke 4:10–11, and also Matthew 4:6).

Jesus does not deny the truth of these words, but he corrects their misinterpretation and abuse.

You shall tread upon the asp and the viper; you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.

Jesus uses similar words to assure his disciples that nothing will harm them: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you” (Luke 10:19).

Because he clings to me, I will deliver him; I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in distress; I will deliver him and glorify him.

This salvation oracle makes it clear that God responds to the trust that man places in him.

These verses have inspired profound reflection by Christian spiritual writers, for example:

“If God says ‘I will be with him in the midst of tribulation,’ why do I seek anything but times of trouble? It is good for me to be a God’s side, and not only that but to have the Lord as my refuge, because he himself says: ‘I will defend him and glorify him. I will be with him in the midst of tribulation.’ He delights, he says, to be with the sons of men. He is called Emmanuel, which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ He comes down from heaven to be close to those whose hearts are troubled, to be with us in our times of trial. […] For me, Lord, it is better to suffer distress with you than to reign as king without you or to live in peace without you or to win glory without you. It is better, Lord, that I unite myself more closely to you in times of trouble, to have you by my side through the tests of fire, than to be without you in this present life or in heaven. For what is the worth of heaven without you? And with you beside me, what on earth can matter to me?” (Saint Bernard, Sermones de tempore, 4, 6)

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