Looking at the Psalms

Looking at the Psalms

Some people seem to have an almost natural love for the Psalms. They find their sentiments, desires, joys, sorrows expressed in ways with which they can identify. This is true even though the culture of ancient times is so different.

My purpose in this look at the Psalms is to help people to grow in appreciation of the Psalms, whether they have a natural love for them or find them foreign.

The present writing is an attempt to suggest some thoughts about the Psalms. The author does not intend a deep and systematic presentation. Rather, from what I have read, thought about and made my own, this is a rather personal approach.

Here are some ideas to think about as a start:

1) In the Psalms, we pray to God in God’s own words.

2) The Book of Psalms was Jesus’ own prayer book.

3) The Jewish people and Christians have used these prayers for centuries.

4) The Psalms are practically a summary of Israel’s history in prayer form.

5) The Psalms are a preparation for the coming of Christ.

6) Jesus referred to the Psalms in describing his own vocation.

7) The New Testament finds images, ideas, various descriptions that help us appreciate who Jesus is and what they Church is all about.

Psalm 1

Many translations are available.

The first verse is most accurately translated: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked. Hebrew uses the masculine “man.”

This gives us pause right from the beginning. What about inclusive language? In general and in today’s situation, I think there is a place for inclusive language—not because of political correctness, but for religious reasons. The way people think today using the masculine pronoun when the reference is to both men and women tends to suggest that women are inferior to men. Because of that, some translate “Blessed are they who do not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” And surely everyone would agree that women as well as men are blessed when they avoid the counsel of the wicked.

The remaining verses are easily understood. There is even the beautiful image of a tree enjoying the presence of life-giving water. As the tree flourishes so do those who delight in doing the will of God.

Photo: Francesco Marino

We might expect the wicked to be like a dead tree. But the image is worse. They (the word is plural) are like chaff. When the farmer throws the ground wheat into the air, the chaff blows away. The wicked are less than worthless.

It is interesting to note that the last verse does use the plural. The Lord knows the way of the righteous. But the way of the wicked will perish.

When we look at the Psalms from the Jewish viewpoint, we might see it as setting the tone for praying all the psalms. We approach them with the desire to delight in the law of God and to strengthen our relationship with God through these prayers. In other words, Psalm 1 is a fine introduction to all of the Psalms.

Christians can approach the Psalm in the same ways. We can delight in God’s law and rejoice with our Jewish brothers and sisters, praising God for all God has done to save his people, thanking God for all God’s gifts, lamenting infidelities and begging forgiveness.

Christians, however, can take the Psalm further. When we think of Christ, we can see him as the man who delight in God’s law, deepened its meaning, practiced it a new way and, lead by the Spirit (symbolized by water), became the tree that never ceased to flourish.

When we look at the Psalm in this way, we may have no difficulty in praying: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the way of the wicked…But his delight is in the law of the Lord.”

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Photo: Arvind Balaraman

 
 

About the Author

Hilarion Kistner, O.F.M., after ordination in 1955, did further studies in Scripture. He taught Scripture to seminarians for 15 years. He has been editor of Sunday Homily Helps for more than 25 years.
 
 
 
  • http://www.americancatholic.org Barbara Baker

    I look forward to this series of posts, Fr. Hilarion!

  • http://www.americancatholic.org SLDigman

    What a delightful series this will be, Hilarion!

  • http://www.americancatholic.org Lisa Biedenbach

    Can’t wait to read more, Hilarion!