Psalm 6 is the first of what are called “the seven penitential psalms” (see below for the other six). The psalmist never tells what he had done wrong, but obviously fears (at least for a time) God’s punishment. In fact, unless God returns to him, he fears he will die.
Until late in Old Testament times, God’s people had almost no idea of a real life after death. They spoke of the nether world (sheol). They thought that people were little more than shades of their former selves. They thought they had no contact with God.
The psalmist has a colorful description of his distress; his body is in terror, his soul is terrified. However, he expresses confidence in God. To motivate God to help him, he reminds God of God’s kindness. He even tells God that, if he dies, he won’t be able to thank God anymore. It sounds like God will miss him.
He returns to another colorful description. He floods his bed with weeping, he drenches his couch with tears. His eyes are dimmed with sorrow. But then he expresses his confidence in God. He knows God has heard him. He knows that his enemies cannot harm him.
As Jesus identified himself with fallen human nature, he was able to pray this psalm. Certainly he was beset by evildoers. Perhaps many of them were put to shame. However, he never lost his love for them and his prayer was that they repent and surrender to God’s call.
We can pray this psalm with Jesus. With his help and the gift of his Spirit, we can deal with our foes. We might recognize that we are our own worst enemy. We can pray that we be rescued from spiritual death and surrender our hearts to God.
As Franciscan novices, we used to go to Confession every Friday. As part of our celebration, we often prayed the seven penitential psalms. Besides Psalm 6, we prayed Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. This was probably a good penance, but most of the novices, who were mostly teenagers, did not enjoy this part of the celebration.
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