Sunday, September 18, 2011

Some verses of Psalm 22 - a Psalm of David

Prefatory miniature of King David playing the harp.
King David in the Psalms,
The Westminster Psalter,
London, c. 1200 ,
Royal 2 A. xxii, f. 14v
The British LIbrary, London

Miniature of The Agony of the Christ in the Garden
At the beginning of Psalm 22
From a Breviary in the use of Besançon
Besançon - BM - ms. 0069 p. 028

Man in vegetables in Initial D of Psalm 22
Book of Psalms
11th century (second half)
Troyes - BM - ms. 0976 f. 021

The first two verses of the Psalm are a desolate cry. They are a call from a man`s soul, the innermost depth of his being. They are the pitiful words of an isolated man beleaguered by misfortunes and apparently ignored even by God. He appears to be truly alone or thinks he is.

The apparent silence of God in the face of misfortune is perhaps the most wounding part of his troubles. The silence of loved ones can be a terrible weapon.

For Christians the initial words of the Psalm have deep significance and resonance. They form the last words of Christ on the Cross. This is no ordinary poem or prayer.

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Pope Benedict XVI recently reflected on these verses of Psalm 22:

"This psalm presents the figure of an innocent man who is persecuted and surrounded by enemies who want his death; and he turns to God in a painful lamentation, which in the certainty of faith opens mysteriously to praise.

In his prayer, the distressing reality of the present and the consoling memory of the past alternate in an anguished awareness of his own desperate situation, yet this does not cause him to give up hope.

His initial cry is an appeal addressed to an apparently distant God who does not respond and who seems to have abandoned him ...

God remains silent, and this silence pierces the heart of the man who prays, who incessantly calls out, but who finds no response. The days and nights pass in an unwearied search for a word, for help that does not come. God seems so distant, so unmindful, so absent.

Prayer asks for listening and for a response; it invites contact; it seeks a relationship that can give comfort and salvation. But if God does not respond, the cry for help vanishes into the void, and the solitude becomes unbearable.

And yet, the man praying our psalm three times cries out, calling the Lord "my" God in an extraordinary act of trust and of faith.

Despite all appearances, the psalmist cannot believe that his bond with the Lord has been completely broken; and while he asks the reason for his present incomprehensible abandonment, he affirms that "his" God cannot abandon him.

It is well known that the psalm's initial cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?" is reported in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark as the cry Jesus uttered as He was dying on the cross (cf. Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).

This [cry] expresses all the desolation of the Messiah, the Son of God, as He faces the drama of death -- a reality utterly opposed to the Lord of life.

Abandoned by nearly all those who were His own, betrayed and denied by His disciples, surrounded by those who insult Him, Jesus is placed under the crushing weight of a mission that must pass through humiliation and abnegation.

He therefore cries out to the Father, and His suffering takes on the painful words of the psalm.

But His is not a desperate cry, nor was that of the psalmist, who in his supplication journeys along a path of torment that nonetheless opens to a vista of praise and trust in the divine victory.

And since according to Jewish use, to cite the beginning of a psalm implied a reference to the whole poem, Jesus' heartrending prayer -- while full of unspeakable suffering -- opens to the certainty of glory.

"Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26)

the Risen One will say to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

During His passion, in obedience to the Father, the Lord Jesus passes through abandonment and death in order to attain life and to grant it to those who believe."

Here is the full text of the Psalm:

Psalm 22

Plea for Deliverance from Suffering and Hostility
To the leader:
Sung according to The Deer of the Dawn.
A Psalm of David

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 ‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’

9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth* is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shrivelled;*
17 I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life* from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued* me.
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;*
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,*
but heard when I* cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor* shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live for ever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.*
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

29 To him,* indeed, shall all who sleep in* the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.*
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and* proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.