Summary: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost September 30, 2001 Year C Psalm 146:1-10 Title: “Praise is recognition of what really is, acknowledgment not added knowledge.”
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost September 30, 2001 Year C
Title: “Praise is recognition of what really is, acknowledgment not added knowledge.”
This is the first of five hymns of praise which conclude the Psalter, called “Hallel Psalms, “Hallel” is Hebrew for “praise.” and part, along with Psalm 145, of the daily morning prayer in the synagogue, even today. Although it is indebted to earlier psalms and prayer-traditions verse two and Psalm 104:33; v. 3 and Psalm 118:9; v. 7 and Psalm 103:6; and v. 8b and Psalm 145:14, this psalm is postexilic in composition. The beatitude in verse five, and the comparison of mortal humans with the Immortal God reflect a source friendly to the outlook and expressions of Wisdom Literature.
In verse one, Alleluia: The word is almost a transliteration of the Hebrew, hallelu-yah, which simply means “Praise Yah(weh).”
“To praise” is to recognize a quality or qualities in another, usually not so obvious until they are stated out loud. It is barely distinguishable from “thanks,” for the recognition or acknowledgement is intended to evoke gratitude on the part of the speaker or hearer or both. While this word is used of humans, especially in exalting beauty and truth, it is most frequently reserved for God. In the psalms it is quite often put in the imperative mood, signifying that praising God is a necessity. It is tantamount to an affirmation of life itself. Indeed, human existence and praise of God are so closely related that the very purpose of life is said to affirm the God-given gift constantly.
In verse two, Praise the Lord, my soul: The psalmist exhorts himself, talks himself into praising God for it is fitting. The beginning of formal prayer is a decision to pray. Here, it is a decision to praise God throughout life. Indeed, the truly pious Jew considered the praise of God, the recognition of his constant but hidden, loving presence, to be the very purpose of life. Even though the psalmist is addressing himself, verse ten, reveals that he speaks for as well as to the entire congregation, teaching and admonishing them by his summaries of God’s behavior. The individual Jew did not make so sharp a distinction between himself and his entire community.
In verse three, put no trust in princes: “Princes,” nedibim in Hebrew, stands for human power without God. “Princes” would be a term for “men of excellence,” but not necessarily moral excellence.
In mere mortals: Lit, “in a son of Adam, a generic term for mortal man.” Human beings, on their own power, no matter how “excellent,” well positioned, well endowed, etc, can deliver nothing without or outside of the power of God. Human beings are subject to sudden collapse and death. God is not.
In verse four, they return to the earth: At death mortals return to the stuff of which they are made, stuff made by God in the first place. Anything they did in between was only permitted by, if not approved by, God. There is a play on words here. The word for dust in Hebrew is ’adamah, while ‘adam is the word for man.
In verse five, the God of Jacob: This is one of the oldest titles for God among the ancient Israelites.
In verse six, who keeps faith forever: While the psalmist recognizes God as the creator, it is God’s fidelity that is most impressive of all. Throughout the ages God remains consistent.
In verses seven to nine, the psalmist recites a list, more or less stereotyped by now, of the characteristic ways God behaves and some of the “reasons,” if, indeed, there need be reasons, for praising God . He does so artfully in a montage of contrasts: justice – oppressed; food – hungry; prisoners – free; sight – blind; raises – bowed down; loves – righteous; protects – stranger; sustains – widow and orphan. His purpose is not only to extol God, but to motivate God’s children to imitate his behavior. All those disadvantaged in any way are objects of God’s special concern.
These ways are characteristic for God but most uncharacteristic behavior for both other gods and for humans. God is consistently different from any and all creatures. Certainly princes, crowned or self-designated, do not characteristically secure justice for the oppressed, feed the hungry, free prisoners, give sight to the blind, raise up the lowly, love the righteous, and protect strangers, widows and orphans. All of this is both literally and figuratively true of God. God is especially concerned with those spurned or ignored by others because of their lack of- princely position in society.
In verse ten, the Lord shall reign forever: Even the main kingly or princely function- that of maintaining justice and good order- is done supremely better by God than by any earthling. No earthly king or prince can compare to him and, so, he deserves the praise not they. He merits the trust not they. There is no comparison between an eternal ruler and rule and a temporal one. This sentence is like a toast along the lines of “Long live God” in the musical play Godspell) or “Viva il Papa, “ an acclamation of joy, victory and good will.