Commentary on Ps 71 sung at the Feast of the Epiphany\
Commentary by Dr Noel Donnelly
Ps 71: w0rds and music (c) Noel Donnelly.
Psalm 71 Commentary 0141 314 7004
Kings are all around on this feast of the Epiphany. The church uses today’s Psalm 71 when we are reflecting on how the Gentile Wise Men (popularly called the “Three Kings”) searched for the one they called “King of the Jews”, much to the annoyance of the evil King, Herod.
Psalm 71 was originally a prayer for the king at his coronation, perhaps for King Solomon. It was probably used again at the annual renewal of this event.
In its origins, this psalm is quite unusual for its times in that it has no regard for military prowess: peace and justice for the poor are its main interests. Here we have a job description for the new king. The prayer starts, “O God, give your judgment to the king; your justice so that he may govern your people with justice, and your oppressed with right judgment.” Verse 4 spells this out clearly: “May he make judgements in favour of the poor and oppressed; may he save the children of the needy and crush those who oppress them.”And again in verse 12 the prayer stresses this intention: “He shall deliver the poor ones who are crying out, the needy ones who have no one to help them”. And again in verse 14, “He will have pity on the helpless and needy. He will save the living conditions of the poor and redeem them from false accusations and cruelty!” With this in mind, the singer announces something like an National Anthem, “Long live our King!”
As usual, our responsorial psalm makes a bridge between the Isaiah reading which reaches back to the mentions of kings and their dromedaries coming to the light of Jerusalem, and bridging forward to the Gospel story of King Herod and the Magi.
When reflecting on this psalm I hope you’ll agree that it is important to pray for those who have responsibilities over us: our government leaders, our local authorities, not forgetting our health carers, and, of course, prayer for our church leaders.
I hope you’ll agree that a psalm that was important for peace and justice 3000 years ago still has relevance today.