Psalm for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Psalm 40: 2, 3, 4, 18

The responsorial psalm for this week comes from Psalm 40, a song of praise and a prayer for help.

Our passage for today is from the thanksgiving portion of this psalm, which contains three main themes: gratitude for being rescued from some kind of difficulty; dedication to God who is the savior; and personal witness in the midst of the community.

The Letter to the Hebrews (10:5-9) quotes the somewhat different Greek version of this psalm, interpreting it as Christ’s self-oblation.

I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me. The LORD heard my cry.

The passage begins with a report of the psalmist’s past deliverance by God. Though in distress, the psalmist waited in expectant hope and with patient trust.

He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; 

God reaches down into death, represented by the pit or the swamp, in order to draw up the afflicted one.

The reference may not have been to death itself, but anything that diminished life, whether sickness or misfortune.

he set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps.

Having been drawn up out of danger, the psalmist is placed on a secure rock, a place of sound footing.

And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God.

Hearing the cry for help, God first stooped down and drew the suffering believer out of the troubling situation, and then put a new song into the psalmist’s mouth — a song in response to this new action of God (Psalm 33:3, 96:1, 144:9, 149:1).

In other words, the former lament or cry for help was heard and was now replaced by a grateful song of praise. Giving thanks is not purely a human response but is itself a divine gift.

Many shall look on in awe and trust in the LORD.

The song of praise is not only an expression of gratitude directed to God, it also serves as a witness of God’s goodness to others.

Though I am afflicted and poor, yet the LORD thinks of me. 

Two stereotypical words are used to describe the psalmist: “afflicted” (’ānî) and “poor” (’ebyôn). These words eventually became synonymous with the righteous ones who, though deprived of protection by the power structures of the world, were favored by God and supported precisely because of their vulnerability.

You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, hold not back!

God is referred to as help (’ēzer) and deliverer (pelêt).

Past favors are the basis of the psalmist’s present cries for help. God rescued him in the past, surely God will do so again now and even in the future.

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