Psalm for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (C)

Psalm 103: 1-4, 6-8, 11

This week’s responsorial psalm is from Psalm 103, a praise of divine goodness. The psalmist begins by praising God for personal benefits, then moves on to God’s mercy toward all the people

Bless the LORD, O my soul;

Although the word “bless” is often used as a prayer for God’s presence or a grace for the future, in this case, it’s a call to praise or thank God for blessings already received. The call to “bless the LORD” is normally addressed to someone other than the psalmist; here, it is a self-address.

The Hebrew word translated “soul” (nepesh) comes from the word for breath. It yields over twenty meanings, chief among which are life-breath (or soul), life, and living person. The reference here is probably to that center within the person from which all one’s life forces flow. This is not merely a spiritual or immaterial reality; it encompasses every aspect of the person. This understanding is corroborated by the phrase “all my being,” which immediately follows.

and all my being, bless his holy name.

In the biblical world, a person’s name was an expression of that person’s unique identity. In many ways, names held more significance for people than they do today. It was believed that one could exercise power over another simply by somehow controlling the name of that person. There were times during Israel’s history when, in their attempt to show great reverence for God, the people paid homage to God’s name rather than directly to God (Deuteronomy 12:11, 21; 14:23f; 16:2, 6, 11). Even when they did this they were careful to avoid using the divine name itself.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

The psalmist wants to bless God for all the good things he has received from him, without forgetting a single one.

He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion. 

The psalmist begins to enumerate the reasons for his call to praise God. God’s deeds all flow from his lovingkindness (hesed) and compassion (răhamîm). It is out of this mercy God acts, not requiring the harsh punishment the sins of the people would warrant.

The LORD secures justice and the rights of all the oppressed. He has made known his ways to Moses, and his deeds to the children of Israel. Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.

God proclaimed his name to Moses at Mount Horeb, therefore revealing his own nature (Exodus 34:6-7), in answer to Moses’s request (Exodus 33:13).

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.

The survey of all that God has done for his people over the course of history concludes by attesting to the immensity of his love.