Psalm for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Psalm 68: 4-7, 10-11

The responsorial psalm for this week comes from Psalm 68, which scholars believe was used in the liturgy for the early autumn Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth), which included a procession of the tribes.

The verses that make up today’s responsorial sketch two very different images of God: the first is a picture of the protector of the vulnerable, the second depicts God as the source of life for the earth.

Together they illustrate the power of God in history and the created world.

The just rejoice and exult before God; they are glad and rejoice.

The passage begins with a statement describing the praise God receives from the righteous. The phrase “before God” (literally: “in the face of God”) is frequently associated with being in the presence of God during some cultic celebration. The later mention of God’s holy dwelling (in v. 6) confirms this interpretation.

Sing to God, chant praise to his name; whose name is the LORD.

The actual call to praise speaks of God’s holy name. Since one’s name was synonymous with one’s identity, this is clearly a call to praise God.

The father of orphans and the defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling. 

The LORD is depicted as a father of orphans and defender of widows, two categories of people who, in a patriarchal society, had no legal protection. For this reason, God steps in and becomes their paternal protector.

God gives a home to the forsaken; he leads forth prisoners to prosperity.

This imagery seems to allude to the release of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and to the ultimate settlement in the Promised Land.

A bountiful rain you showered down, O God, upon your inheritance; you restored the land when it languished;

Here God is praised as the Almighty Creator who controls nature and gives fertility to the land. In ancient Canaan, this authority was ascribed to the god Baal. One of the first major feats of the religion of Israel was the repudiation of that Canaanite storm deity and the appropriation of Baal’s prerogatives and powers to the God of Israel.

Now it is the God of Israel who rains down life-giving water so that the land that has been given to Israel will flourish and the people who settle there will be prosperous.

your flock settled in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided it for the needy.

The people are referred to as the inheritance of God and as God’s flock, both references to their special election.

This kind of historical recital was part of many of Israel’s liturgical celebrations. They were meant to recall God’s goodness and to act as an incentive for the praise to which the people were summoned. God is here praised as the savior of the people.

As Israel brought together these two images of God (that of Creator and Redeemer), it was making a very bold statement. It was not unusual to believe that one’s God was a protector of the vulnerable of society; however, to claim God was Creator was to make God sovereign above all the other powers of heaven. This was because in ancient Near Eastern mythology, the Creator was the one who had conquered the forces of evil and then reigned supreme above all.

In this psalm, Israel is saying that its God, who cares for widows and orphans with the care of the father of a patriarchal family, is the very God who brought order to the universe at the beginning of time and who continues to provide the earth with the necessary waters of life.

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