13th SUNDAY-C- June 26, 2022
I Kings19: 16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5: 1, 13-18; Luke 9: 51-62
by Jude Siciliano, OP
I wonder why we don’t hear preaching from the Psalms, either in our Sunday or weekday liturgies? I am aware this is a generalization. Maybe I should say "rarely hear preaching from the Psalms." Is it because we just view the Psalms as a liturgical tool – to serve as a response to the first reading? But in our three-year cycle over 100 Psalms appear at least once in our lectionary. So, the Psalms are our ever-present, but often neglected Scriptures in our community worship. Sometimes they are sung, sometimes recited – but always there.
Israel used no physical images to represent God. But when the Psalms were prayed the worshiping community was before God in a special way. Every human response seems to be present in the Psalms: praise, thanks, joy, awe and complaint – sometimes vociferous complaint! When we express these feelings, the very praying of them reminds us that God is not deaf to us, whatever our current situation. The Psalms remind us that God is concerned about all we feel and all that happens to us.
About 60 of the Psalms are laments; indicative of the very difficult situations in which the Israelites found themselves. No wonder so many today turn to them for personal prayer throughout the seasons of their lives. No wonder too, that the church has found them eminently suitable prayer for our public worship. Here at our priory where I live, we Dominicans chant Psalms in our morning, evening and night prayer. The "wonder" then might be: why don’t we preachers preach from the Psalms? I don’t have scientific research with precise numbers to back me up on this. I just know I rarely hear preaching, much less an allusion to "the Psalm of the day" at our Masses.
But Psalms offer rich material for preaching and prayer. They are of the genre of poetry and, as such, are pitched higher and with more intensity. This is especially true when they are put to music. Thus, respecting the poetic nature of the Psalms can help address the imagination and avoid the didactic. Another word for "didactic" in preaching is "boring." Let’s put the above to a practical test and consider preaching from today’s Psalm 16 – our "Responsorial Psalm."
Usually just part of the Psalm is used in the response to the first reading. The excerpt from the whole Psalm is chosen to fit the mood, or "theme," of the reading. We do well to reflect and pray on the whole Psalm as a preliminary to focusing on the selection chosen for the day’s worship. Let’s do that – look on the whole of Psalm 16. ( Of course you will have to go to your Bible for this.)
Psalm 16 begins with a declaration of trust and then moves to a confession of faith. The psalmist confesses the Lord is the only God and expresses in two images the trust Israel has in its covenantal relationship with God. God is addressed as "my allotted portion." This is a reference to the "Land" God gave Israel, which was seen as a sign of God’s favor towards them. Land gave the nation identity and membership, encouragement and prosperity. Having land assured the people of their future. Now the psalmist names God as "the allotted portion." God has replaced the land. The blessings and the security the people associated with the land are replaced by God.
When the land was taken from Israel and the people dispersed, or taken into slavery, they still had God as their present assurance and future inheritance. No power, no tragedy, no disappointment could take God from them – or from us. "You it is who hold fast my lot."
Another poetic image from the Psalm’s opening lines: God is called "my cup." The cup could be what was passed around for all to drink and which solidified the union of those who drank. The cup united the community to one another in worship. It also united the community to God. (Remember the past – over two years ago– when the priests around the altar and the members of the congregation shared the cup?) The psalmist proclaims God is "my cup," expressing such a close union with God that no one, no worldly downturn, could break that union, or separate us from God.
Here is a saying I cherish about the Psalms. "The person who prays the Psalm, becomes the Psalm." Since the Psalms are God’s Word they are active and effective: they do what they say. The power of the Word is exemplified in the Bible in the very opening verses of Genesis, when God spoke and creation happened. Jesus, the Word-made-flesh, spoke the Word to an ailing and dismembered society. When he spoke healing, forgiveness and unity happened.
When we receive the words of Psalm 16 and respond in prayer, the word it speaks forms us. It can make a timid heart firm; strengthen our relationship with God our "allotment and cup"; restore our confidence despite our present struggle. As the Psalm speaks: "You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption." Remember, "The person who prays the Psalm becomes the Psalm."
The Psalms make excellent material for preaching in their eloquent and powerful expression of the human situation. They speak of need, gratitude for God's support, grief, complaint, joy over creation, contrition for sin, feelings of guilt, a sense of being abandoned by family, friends and even by God. What they say, we hear repeated in our own hearts and the voices of those to whom we minster. They speak about what life feels like with and apart from God. They name daily human struggles and celebrations that bridge the thousands of years between us and their original authors. In other words, preaching from them will help us speak to the concrete realities of those in our congregations – isn't that what we preachers are supposed to do?
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