Psalm for Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (ABC)

Psalm 22: 8-9, 17-20, 23-24

This week our responsorial psalm comes from Psalm 22, which is a combination of a lament and a hymn of thanksgiving. The imagery used is both vivid and forceful. In some places, it is so realistic that one cannot distinguish with certainty factual description from poetic metaphor.

Jesus spoke the first words of this psalm when was nailed on the cross, making his own the feelings of trust in God that are conveyed in this prayer. This gives the psalm a very special value because it prefigured Christ’s feelings and gives us an insight into what his death meant to Jesus at the time and its implications for us.

All who see me scoff at me; they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads: 

The opening verses describe the derision that the psalmist must endure from onlookers. These spectators are not explicitly identified as enemies; they are merely people who look upon the affliction of the psalmist and revile him rather than comfort him.

The actual taunt is graphically described. Those who mock him part their lips to sneer at him, perhaps to hiss. They wag their heads in ridicule.

“He relied on the LORD; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, if he loves him.”

The most cutting derision may be the words they hurl at him. He is reviled not only because he suffers but primarily because in his suffering he clings to God in confidence. It appears that the onlookers are mocking what they consider to be the psalmist’s misplaced trust, throwing into question whether there is any point to such trust. Does God really care what happens to this pitiful man?

Indeed, many dogs surround me, a pack of evildoers closes in upon me;
they have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.
They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.

The metaphors used to describe the bystanders are trenchant. They are characterized as encircling dogs or some other type of predatory pack ready to tear him limb from limb. They are bloodthirsty assailants assaulting his body. They are rapacious thieves stripping the very clothes from his back.

Nothing is safe from their savagery, neither the psalmist’s person nor his possessions. In the end he lies humiliated, stripped; his wounds are such that all his bones are visible. His integrity has been challenged and his trust in God ridiculed.

But you, O LORD, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me.

Neither the mockery nor the brutality of these onlookers can undermine the devotion of the psalmist. In the face of all this suffering, he clings to hope. Turning to God, he prays for a sense of God’s presence and for deliverance from his misery.

Notice that he does not seek reprisals; he seeks relief. We aren’t told whether the psalmist perceives his suffering as punishment for some offense, but he indicates that he does not believe his predicament should separate him from God. Suffering and devotion are not incompatible.

I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you:

Since one’s name holds part of one’s essence, to proclaim the name of God is to recognize and praise the greatness — in this case, the graciousness — of God.

This sudden change of tone shows the psalmist’s confidence that God will respond to him; he therefore vows to make a public declaration of gratitude and praise in the midst of the assembly (qāhāl).

“You who fear the LORD, praise him; all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him; revere him, all you descendants of Israel!”

The reading ends with an exclamation associated with thanksgiving. This implies either that the psalmist’s entreaties have been heard and he has been granted relief from his suffering, or that he is convinced it will happen and he rejoices in anticipation.

He makes this exclamation before all the people so that they can join him in praising God.

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