Psalm for the 5th Sunday of Lent (C)

Psalm 126: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6

This week’s responsorial psalm is from Psalm 126, a lament probably sung shortly after Israel’s return from exile.

When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming. 

Confidence in God’s saving power is usually based on the remembrance of some saving act in the past, and the great blessing of Israel’s past was the return from exile.

Zion, the mountain on which the temple was built, became a symbol with many layers of meaning: it stood for the temple itself, the city of Jerusalem, the southern kingdom, or the entire nation of Israel. Here it probably refers to Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing.

The response of the returnees was threefold: amazement, laughter, and joy. The event of their release and return was so extraordinary that it was almost beyond their comprehension. It was as if they were in a dream.

This level of amazement suggests that they had lost hope of ever returning home. By painting this bleak picture, the psalmist demonstrates how helpless they were to rescue themselves. Only God would have the authority and power to change anything.

Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad indeed.

The graciousness of God as seen in their deliverance speaks volumes to the surrounding nations. The God of Israel not only has tremendous power, this power is not restricted by geographic boundaries or ethnic particularities. God’s power was exercised over the Israelites, but now it has been seen to be effective over foreign conquerors.

Seeing Israel’s history unfold before their very eyes, the nations marveled at the greatness of a God that can accomplish such amazing feats.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the torrents in the southern desert.

The people rejoice that they are in Zion, but mere presence in the holy city is not enough. They must pray for the prosperity and the fertility of the land.

The imagery used in this request reflects the seeming impossibility of their present situation: they pray for rain in such abundance that the dry riverbeds of the arid southern desert will run with torrents of water.

Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing. Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.

The reversal of fortune they request is further described: sowing in tears and reaping in joy; leaving with only the promise of harvest and returning with its abundant fruits.

God will replace their tragedy with good fortune. This is their prayer; it is for this that they hope. They are confident their prayer will be answered and their hope will be realized because God has been gracious to them in the past.

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