Commentary on Ps 16 for the 32nd Sunday of Year C by Dr Noel Donnelly
Psalm 16 Commentary
To appreciate original context of Psalm 16 we need full psalm and not just the liturgist’s selection for this weekend’s readings.
Verse 3 of the full psalm tells us that the composer was going to spend the night in the temple, perhaps lying in the shadow of God’s wings as an innocent asylum seeker. Those wings may be those of the cherubim carved on the Temple-throne above the ark of the covenant.
He seems to have fallen into an exhausted sleep because verse 15 tells us about the composer waking up on the morning, feeling close to the presence of God, with the veil of fear or darkness being lifted.
That may be the original context for our psalm.
When we come to the context in our liturgical celebration, we see that it’s prayer for protection echoes the first reading’s confident prayer for eternal life in the Book of Maccabees.
Our psalm’s final verse about “awakening in the morning” may similarly point to the Gospel’s theme of the awakening into eternal life after death. Morning is also the symbol for gentle deliverance and hope. I am reminded of the beautiful piece called, “The gentle light that wakes me” by Aly Bain and Nicola Benedetti.
Whatever the context, biblical, liturgical or cultural, this psalm is a prayer. Now when this psalmist prays, he seems to have no vague “spiritual” image of God in mind: instead, we find repeated references to face, eyes, lips, mouth, heart, feet, ear, and right hand. As we prepare to pray this psalm we might get physical too, as we summon our whole being and pray, “O Lord, open our lips, as we turn our eyes to you, standing firmly on our feet with arms outstretched before your face, singing our prayer with full hearts and voices”. We can pray with the body as well as the mind.