Psalm for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (c)

Psalm 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36-37

The responsorial psalm for this week comes from Psalm 69, a lament about suffering. Despite his difficult circumstances, the psalmist maintains hope that all will be set right.

Unfortunately, crying out to God in grief or sorrow is not something we are accustomed to doing or hearing from others. Perhaps some think it is unseemly or disrespectful to complain to God; however, a lament is actually a statement of profound faith: It acknowledges that God has power over the circumstances of life, and it is an expression of humble faith that God will come to the aid of those who cry out.

I pray to you, O LORD, for the time of your favor, O God! In your great kindness answer me with your constant help. Answer me, O LORD, for bounteous is your kindness; in your great mercy turn toward me.

This is the cry of the lament itself. In his appeal for God to listen to him, the psalmist calls out first to the attributes of the God of the Covenant by using technical covenant language. The covenant term for lovingkindness (hesed) appears twice; we also find truth (ěmet) of salvation (yēsha, translated as “constant help”), and passionate love (rahămîm), love like that of a woman for the child of her womb.

By crying out with this language, the psalmist is bringing the strength and the personal dimension of the covenant to the plea for deliverance. This isn’t merely someone who has fallen on hard times, this is a member of the covenanted community. Surely God will turn an understanding ear to this anguished plea.

I am afflicted and in pain; let your saving help, O God, protect me. 

Here we see the reason for the lament: the psalmist is afflicted, or lowly (’ānî), and suffering.

I will praise the name of God in song, and I will glorify him with thanksgiving. Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.

Even before there are clear signs of being rescued, the psalmist expresses confidence in God’s deliverance and thanksgiving for having been heard. This is evidence of his faith.

“See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.

The lowly and the poor are the very ones who are called on to experience God and the psalmist is somehow identified with this group of people.

Covenant theology includes a promise by God to care for the needy, and the responsibility of humans to care for one another. Israel believed that when someone within the covenant community was disadvantaged and not cared for by other members of the community, God would step in and redress the imbalance. This has come to be known today as “God’s preferential option for the poor.”

The psalmist seems to be counting on a display of such divine justice. He calls on all the downtrodden to join him in his hymn of praise to God.

For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. The descendants of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall inhabit it.

The psalm ends with a final expression of confidence.

The specifics mentioned here are telling: The salvation of Zion and the rebuilding of the cities in the southern kingdom of Judah call to mind the time after the Babylonian exile. While the details are rooted in historical events, they are often interpreted metaphorically, referring to other situations wherein God is called upon to save.