Commentary on Ps 137 for Sunday 17C  on July 24th








video:  Commentary on Ps 137


script:   Psalm 137 Commentary 17C

Psalm 137 is a gentle hymn of praise and thanksgiving. Both of these acts overlap one another: praise involves thanks and thanks includes praise. Some commentators say they are translations of the one Hebrew word. Right at the start, the poet sings this double-meaning word “with all my heart” as verse 1 puts it.

Why should he or she make a prayer of thankful praise? The writer has an orderly mind and makes an argument with neat logical progression through the song.  Firstly, praise and thanks because God listens. “You have heard the words of my mouth”. (verse 1). Then for who this God really is: a God of faithfulness and love, “greater than I ever knew” says verse 2). Thirdly, thanks and praise for God’s actual answering: ”on the day I called, You answeredme!” (Verse 3). Fourthly, because “You have strengthened my soul” (verse 3). Fifthly, “I thank You for Your faithfulness and love which excel all we ever knew of You!” And, sixthly, because God wonderfully “stretches out his hand and SAVES” (verse 8). So: God listens, acts faithfully, answers, strengthens, loves and for a grand climax to the argument, SAVES!

As a result, the poet ends by singing confidently about God’s saving protection for the future, “even though I may walk in the darkness of affliction” as verses 7 and 8 put it, since God’s love is “eternal” says verse 9.

In our liturgy, how does our responsorial psalm make the usual bridge between the readings? Prayer can be the link:  Abraham’s persistent prayer of petition for mercy in the first reading; then prayer of thanks in the psalm; and in the Gospel, the prayer of adoration, and of petition, asking for daily bread and mercy in the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father.

When singing the psalmist’s gentle psalm of thanksgiving for blessings received, we may of course reflect with gratitude on the blessings of our experience. One of the amazing blessings for lay Readers and Cantors is that we have moved dramatically from the days of the Council of Toulouse, which in 1229 would not allow lay men (not to mention women!) even to read the scriptures! If you could read at all, then you were allowed to have a book of the psalms. You weren’t allowed the Gospels and you had to use the Psalms for your basic education. So, let’s thankfully count our blessings today within the church as well as elsewhere!

audio of Ps 137:  words (c0 The Grail, England.   Music (c) St Mungo Music.  Recorded by Grace Buckley.