Psalm 17: 1, 5-6, 8, 15
This week’s responsorial is from Psalm 17, a lament of an individual who has taken refuge in the Temple after being unjustly attacked.
Hear, O LORD, a just suit; attend to my outcry; hearken to my prayer from lips without deceit.
Although this is a psalm of lament, it also contains hints of a temple ritual.
In ancient Israel, worshipers would bring their needs to the Temple and present them to the priest. In certain circumstances, their complaint would take the form of a lawsuit (“a just suit”). The petitioner would state their cause, name the defendant against whom they were bringing the complaint, give evidence of their own innocence, and pray that God would see fit to judge in their favor.
My steps have been steadfast in your paths, my feet have not faltered. I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my word.
The psalmist describes his innocence in three ways: lips without deceit, steps in God’s paths, feet that have not faltered.
This is followed by a declaration of confidence in God.
Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings.
The prayer for help includes two graphic images. The apple of one’s eye refers to what is most precious to the individual. The origin of the image is unknown, but its meaning is recognized in most cultures. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness during the exodus, God looked after his people “as the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10).
Being hidden in the shadow of one’s wings is a metaphor for maternal care and concern; it brings to mind a protective bird under whose wings a fledgling is assured of finding safety and tenderness. Jesus himself employs this metaphor to express his love for Jerusalem when the city rejected him (Matthew 23:37).
Requesting this kind of solicitude from God is a bold move, serving as further evidence of the psalmist’s innocence and his trust in God’s provident justice.
But I in justice shall behold your face; on waking I shall be content in your presence.
The reward that this innocent petitioner seeks is to behold the face of God and stand in his presence.
To be filled with God’s presence is what Jesus promises to the clean of heart (Matthew 5:8); Revelation tells us that the servants of the Lord in the eschatological city will see God’s face (Revelation 22:4).
The reference to waking may be an indication that the psalmist intends to spend the night in the sanctuary, or it may be intended in the metaphorical sense, as in waking from death. Regardless of the meaning intended, the message is clear: the supreme good lies in joyful contemplation of God.