Psalm for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Psalm 16: 1-2, 5, 7-11

Our responsorial psalm for this week comes from Psalm 16, a psalm that speaks of the covenant relationship with God and the confidence that abounds from it.

Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge; I say to the LORD, “My Lord are you.

This psalm of confidence opens with a declaration of trust that God will protect the psalmist from danger.

A confession of faith follows: The LORD is the only God for the psalmist.

O LORD, my allotted portion

The psalmist employs two images to represent his covenant relationship with God: the allotted portion and the cup.

The allotted portion of land is the inheritance that each tribe was given and which was handed down within the tribe generation after generation. This land provided the people with identity and membership, sustenance and prosperity. Without land they had no future, and they would not last long in the present. By invoking this image, the psalmist is claiming that God has replaced the land in the religious consciousness of the people; the blessings and promises customarily associated with land are now associated with the LORD.

and my cup, you it is who hold fast my lot.

The second image is the cup. This might be the communal cup passed around from which all drank. Such an action solidified the union of those who drank from the common cup. When this action took place at a cultic meal, those participating in the feast were joined not only to each other but to the deity as well. By invoking this image, the psalmist declares that this unifying cup is really the LORD. In other words, the psalmist is joined so closely with God as almost to defy separation.

I bless the LORD who counsels me; even in the night my heart exhorts me.

Being counseled by the LORD could refer to the practice of a worshiper approaching a priest in order to receive counsel in a particular matter.

The mention of prayer at night is probably an allusion to night vigil, the devotional ritual of spending the entire night at the sanctuary or in the Temple praying for a favor from God.

I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.

Those who devote themselves fully to God have him as their constant guide, their protector, their joy and well-being.

Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence;

The psalmist’s entire being is filled with confidence and gladness. The heart refers figuratively to the inner or spiritual dimension of the person; the body (elsewhere translated as “flesh”) denotes their physical or exterior dimension.

because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.

The reason for this rejoicing is the rescue from death that God granted to the psalmist. Regardless of the terrifying, even life-threatening ordeals the psalmist must endure, God is steadfast.

The Hebrew term shahath means here the pit, a synonym for Sheol, the underworld. The Greek translation derives the word here and elsewhere from the verb shahath, “to be corrupt.”

In the Septuagint Greek, this verse is interpreted as being set free from the corruption of the grave after death; in other words, they are taken to refer to the resurrection.

While the psalmist was probably merely thinking of being rescued from physical death (rather than eternal death), the apostles shared the resurrection interpretation as a reference to the resurrection of Christ, arguing that if these are King David’s words (as all the psalms were thought to be) and David was dead, then this verse must refer to someone else — that is, Jesus. (See Acts 2:29-3:31; cf. Acts 13:35.)

You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.

In the face of things, this kind of confidence in God may appear to be foolhardy, but the psalmist’s trust is unshakable. Ultimately the “fullness of joys” will abound in the presence of God.

Saint Teresa of Avila expressed this psalm’s idea very beautifully when she wrote: “He who has God wants for nothing. God alone is enough” (Poems, 30).

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