Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
The responsorial psalm for this week comes from Psalm 72, a royal hymn in which the psalmist asks God to bless the king so that the king in turn can bless the people.
Ancient monarchs exercised incredible control over the lives of their subjects. Despite the scope and depth of this influence, the king was under the jurisdiction of God. As such, he was able to govern the people in a way that provided them the peace and well-being that God wills for them.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
The psalmist begins with a prayer, asking God that the king be given a share in God’s own righteousness — the same righteousness with which he governs the world and all the people in it.
While the king is the representative of God, he is human; hence intercession must be made for him.
and with your justice, the king’s son;
By mentioning the crown prince, the prayer underscores the principle of dynastic legitimacy.
he shall govern your people with justice
The people are explicitly identified as belonging to God; presumably, they are the people of the covenant. Thus this is no ordinary king, he has been placed over the covenanted people to rule them as God would, in justice and righteousness.
Over time, this depiction of an ideal king and reign came to be understood in Jewish tradition as a description of the Messiah.
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
The test of the character of the royal rule is the care given to the most vulnerable of society, the poor. The psalmist asks God to grant righteousness to the king so he can protect the defenseless and provide them a share in the prosperity of the nation.
Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
The psalmist turns to the rule of the king. He prays first for its steadfastness: may it last forever (“till the moon be no more”).
The reign itself is not the object of the psalmist’s prayer, but the righteousness of the reign. Since it is really God’s righteousness, he prays that it will take root and flourish throughout the rule of this particular king and that it will even outlast him, enduring along with peace until the end of time.
May he rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
The psalmist next prays that this rule of justice be extended to include the entire world. The boundaries of the civilized world known at the time extended from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Persian Gulf in the east, and from the Euphrates (“the River”) to the islands and lands of southwestern Europe (“the ends of the earth”).
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save.
The prayer continues with a picture of righteousness in action. The kingdom is rooted in the righteousness of God, and the most vulnerable in society have an advocate in the king.
May his name be blessed forever; as long as the sun his name shall remain.
It was believed that the name of a person contained part of that person’s identity and personality. The more important the person, the more powerful the name. From this, it is easy to see why the name of the king was held in such high regard, particularly the name of a righteous king.
The prayer ends with a plea that this name, and therefore the power and influence of this king, remain blessed forever.
In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed; all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.
This king’s righteousness shall be a model for other nations, and through him they too will be blessed by God.