Belles Heures of Jean de France,
duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pierce my flesh with your fear!
These days compliance with God’s law is often interpreted very broadly indeed, to mean anything I personally want to do; not so for the psalmist, who repeatedly asks to be instructed, and to be enlightened. It also alludes to the currently highly unpopular idea that God sometimes allows bad things to happen to us so that we can be called to repentance, learn and grow. And above all, it accepts ‘fear of the Lord’ as an appropriate motivator.
Yet in presenting these ideas to us, Psalm 118 constructs them in a very positive way, as Pope Benedict XVI indicates in the next section of his catechesis from last year on the psalm:
“The entire alphabet unfolds through the 22 stanzas of this Psalm and also the whole of the vocabulary of the believer’s trusting relationship with God; we find in it praise, thanksgiving and trust, but also supplication and lamentation. However they are always imbued with the certainty of divine grace and of the power of the word of God. Even the verses more heavily marked by grief and by a sense of darkness remain open to hope and are permeated by faith.
“My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to your word” (v. 25), the Psalmist trustingly prays. “I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes” (v. 83), is his cry as a believer. His fidelity, even when it is put to the test, finds strength in the Lord’s word: “then shall I have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word” (v. 42), he says firmly; and even when he faces the anguishing prospect of death, the Lord’s commandments are his reference point and his hope of victory: “they have almost made an end of me on earth; but I have not forsaken your precepts” (v. 87).”
Here are some key verses to think on today that touch on these more penitential themes, so appropriate for a Friday in Lent!
25 My soul has cleaved to the pavement: quicken me according to your word.
41 Let your mercy also come upon me, O Lord: your salvation according to your word.
71 It is good for me that you have humbled me, that I may learn your justifications.
83 For I have become like a bottle in the frost: I have not forgotten your justifications
107. I have been humbled, O Lord, exceedingly: quicken me according to your word.
120 Pierce my flesh with your fear: for I am afraid of your judgments.
125 I am your servant: give me understanding that I may know your testimonies.
154 Judge my judgment and redeem me: quicken me for your word's sake.
And for appropriate meditation material, here is the Offertory set for today’s Mass, which verses 107 and 125 from the psalm:
You can find the Latin text and a little more, over at my Psalm blog.