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Year A: Advent 3
Psalm 146:5-10

Psalm 146 is read on a couple of occasions in Ordinary time in our lectionary. Today we encounter it in Advent. It lends itself well to the season and the readings for today on two accounts. In v. 5b we read that those happy/blessed are those ‘whose hope is in the Lord their God.’ But beside the aspect of hope and trust in the psalm it also speaks about the Lord setting the prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, lifting those who are bowed, watching over the stranger and upholding the orphan and widow (cf. Isa 35:5-6; Matt 11:5).

In many ways Psalm 145 can be seen as a conclusion to the book of Psalms and Psalms 146-150 as a development on Ps 145:21 in the form of a great doxology. Psalm 146 introduces that doxology. This collection of five psalms may have originally had some liturgical context, but that has been lost in its present position. Psalms 146-150 describe ‘all flesh’ praising the Lord. There seems to be movement in the subject matter through these five psalms. Each of them adds to the voices which praise the Lord – first the psalmist (Psalm 146), then Jerusalem (Psalm 147), then all in heaven and earth (Psalm 148), then the faithful in Zion and Israel (Psalm 149), and finally ‘everything that breathes’ (Psalm 150). Various dimensions of praise are evident in this movement – personal, community, political, and liturgical.

Each psalm begins and ends with Hallelujah, ‘Praise Yah(weh)’ or ‘Praise the Lord’. The collection is literally an expression of all parts of creation proclaiming praise. However, at the start in Psalm 146 we have not quite reached the cosmic dimension. This is an individual psalm, an ‘I’ psalm, where one individual sings that praise. If we are to take our leave from Psalm 145 itself we might imagine that this is the praise of King David. In any case, it is a reminder that the praise of God is itself something that starts in both small and sometimes lonely places. The reading from Isaiah 35 reminds us that praise can often start in the midst of difficult times like exile.

Early in this final collection of hymns, there is also a focus on the various praiseworthy qualities of the Lord. Psalm 146 extends the catalogue of descriptive phrases already found in Psalm 145. Psalms 146-150 are then linked together through a number of catchwords and motifs. For example, the address to Zion in Ps. 146:10 is picked up again in Ps. 147:12, with a further reference to Zion in 149:2 and the location of Psalm 150 in the sanctuary itself (v. 1). The focus on the Lord’s ‘name’ also ties Psalms 145 and 146 together. ‘All flesh’ will bless the Lord’s name (Ps. 145:21b) and in Psalm 146 we hear the name of the Lord no less than eleven times.

The themes and thoughts of this final great doxology are by no means new in the book of Psalms. Psalm 146:3 echoes those earlier psalms which question placing trust in princes and others who seem to have power to offer salvation. We might want to replace ‘princes’ with such things as political parties, financial security, or national security policies. Psalm 3 addresses the same issue. Psalm 146:4 recalls Psalm 104 with human breath returning to earth. Also the mention of the futility human plans brings to mind Psalm 2 with its mention of those who plot against the Lord and his anointed. Finally, v. 9 recalls Ps 1:6 with its mention of the way of the wicked perishing.

Psalm 146 begins (vv. 1-2) with a vow to praise the Lord by the psalmist in the 1st
person singular. Praise is a life-long enterprise for this psalmist. There is a two-fold aspect to this statement as it unfolds in the greater collection of Psalms 146-150. It is something to which the psalmist commits her/himself ‘life-long’, but praise of the Lord is also something that the whole life of the individual here proclaims. Praise is not just the aim of life, but life is praise.

Praise is also related to trust and confidence and so the psalmist turns to the ‘negative’ side of this statement in v. 3, in terms of those in whom one ought not to put their trust, or whom they should not praise. It is useless trusting in human leaders because they are temporary (vv. 3-4). While the individual psalmist says these words they are spoken to the community at large.

A blessing formula in v. 5 of the psalm introduces a list of divine attributes for which the Lord ought to be praised. The first part of the list relates to the creative work of the Lord. Then the list moves to matters of truth and justice, and finally bread for the hungry. Verses 7b-9 of the psalm speak of the Lord’s dealing with those who are bowed down, finishing with care for the orphan and widow. This latter care is contrasted with the way of the wicked. Finally, v. 10 ends the psalm with a statement about the Lord’s kingship and the final halleluyah.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

The whole psalm could be adapted for the prayer of adoration:

Praise the LORD!
    Praise the LORD, O my soul!
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Praise the God of Jacob,
    who made heaven and earth, the sea,
and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
    The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
    The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
    The LORD watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow.
    Praise the LORD!
Some verses could also be used in the prayer of confession in conjunction with the Kyrie.
The psalmist says:
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When we place our trust in things of no substance
Lord have mercy.

The LORD executes justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry,
and sets the prisoners free.
When we neglect the plight of those in need,
Christ have mercy.

The LORD watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow.
When we fail to see loneliness in our midst,
Lord have mercy.

Finally, v. 5 can be incorporated into the final blessing:
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God,
for the LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
And now the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Be with you now and forevermore.
Old Testament reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

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