Our responsorial psalm for today’s celebration is from Psalm 34, a thanksgiving in acrostic form, which means each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Although the content of this type of psalm may vary, the form (the entire alphabet) always signifies the same thing: completeness.
I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the LORD; the lowly will hear me and be glad.
The psalm begins with an expression of praise of God and an acknowledgment of the appropriateness of blessing God. This praise probably takes place in some kind of liturgical setting, for it is heard by the lowly (’ănāwîm), those who live in trust and dependence on the LORD.
Glorify the LORD with me, let us together extol his name.
This particular psalm is less a prayer than an instruction. The psalmist invites others to join in rejoicing and in praising God’s name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Normally in psalms of thanksgiving the reasons for gratitude are recited. Without going into detail, the psalmist confesses having been in distress, having turned to the LORD, and having been rescued. This is the reason for gratitude, and this is why the psalmist glorifies God and bids others to do the same.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame. When the poor one called out, the LORD heard, and from all his distress he saved him.
After giving witness to others, the attitude of the psalmist develops into a pedagogical technique, teaching others to act in the same way by giving explicit instructions. The congregation is encouraged to look to the LORD so they too may rejoice in gratitude, their faces radiant and without shame. One’s face, we should remember, is the expression of one’s dignity, of one’s status in the community, and to lose face is to lose honor or be shamed.
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
An image that might be unfamiliar to us is used to demonstrate the blessings that flow from following this instruction. An angel or messenger from God pitches a protective camp around those who fear the LORD, who stand in awe and reverence of God’s majesty and power. Thus they are guarded by the power of God against anything that might endanger them.
Taste and see how good the LORD is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
The passage ends with an admonition: The congregation is encouraged to taste God’s goodness, to partake of it a little, to sample it a bit. The psalmist is saying that if only they put God’s goodness to the test they will see for themselves how delectable it is, how satisfying it can be. They have the psalmist’s witness. It’s now time for them to experience God’s goodness for themselves.