Psalm 143 - New American Bible, Revised Edition
The Seven Penitential Psalms
During times when we wish to express repentance and especially during Lent, it is customary to pray the seven penitential psalms. The penitential designation of these psalms dates from the seventh century. Prayerfully reciting these psalms will help us to recognize our sinfulness, express our sorrow and ask for God’s forgiveness.
We are featuring here the newly released translations of the seven penitential psalms from the New American Bible, Revised Edition with reflections and discussion questions from Graziano Marcheschi, M.A. D.Min.
Psalm 143: Audio | Commentary
A Prayer in Distress
1A psalm of David.
LORD, hear my prayer;
in your faithfulness listen to my pleading;
answer me in your righteousness.
2Do not enter into judgment with your servant;
before you no one can be just.a
3The enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground.b
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.c
4My spirit is faint within me;
my heart despairs.d
5I remember the days of old;
I ponder all your deeds;
the works of your hands I recall.e
6I stretch out my hands toward you,
my soul to you like a parched land.f
7Hasten to answer me, LORD;
for my spirit fails me.
Do not hide your face from me,
lest I become like those descending to the pit.g
8In the morning let me hear of your mercy,
for in you I trust.
Show me the path I should walk,
for I entrust my life to you.h
9Rescue me, LORD, from my foes,
for I seek refuge in you.
10Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
May your kind spirit guide me
on ground that is level.
11For your name’s sake, LORD, give me life;
in your righteousness lead my soul out of distress.
12In your mercy put an end to my foes;
all those who are oppressing my soul,
for I am your servant.i
* [Psalm 143] One of the Church’s seven Penitential Psalms, this lament is a prayer to be freed from death-dealing enemies. The psalmist addresses God, aware that there is no equality between God and human beings; salvation is a gift (Ps 143:1–2). Victimized by evil people (Ps 143:3–4), the psalmist recites (“remembers”) God’s past actions on behalf of the innocent (Ps 143:5–6). The Psalm continues with fervent prayer (Ps 143:7–9) and a strong desire for guidance and protection (Ps 143:10–12).
a. [143:2] Eccl 7:20; Jb 4:17; Rom 3:20.
b. [143:3] Ps 7:6.
c. [143:3] Lam 3:6.
d. [143:4] Ps 142:4; Jb 17:1.
e. [143:5] Ps 77:6, 12.
f. [143:6] Ps 42:2; 63:2.
g. [143:7] Ps 28:1; 30:4; 88:5; Prv 1:12.
h. [143:8] Ps 25:4; 27:11; 86:11; 119:12, 35.
i. [143:12] Ps 116:16.
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A Prayer in Distress
Mature spirituality requires good memory. The prophets of the Old Testament were forever admonishing the people to “remember” the merciful deeds of the Lord. Eventually, the Hebrew people became known as “People of the Book,” because Sacred Scripture became their corporate memory, their assurance that, despite their feeble day-to-day memories, as a people they would never forget the goodness of God. The story of God’s dealings with Israel is less a record of what God did and more a portrait of who God is. The psalmist, mindful of God’s past mercy, turns to God with those memories alive in heart. His soul is parched, but he remembers God’s promise, spoken through Isaiah, to make parched land exalt and to coax blooms from the desert.
Evil enemies have prevailed against the psalmist and he knows that alone he cannot stand. So he turns to God, acknowledging no human can claim to be just in God’s sight. So, he relies not on his own worthiness but on God’s compassion. Because from “days of old” God has been Israel’s savior, the psalmist can plead for mercy once again. The prayer is blunt and refreshingly human. “Rescue me,” it says. Don’t let me fall into the pit of depression; “put an end to my foes,” it pleads, “for I am your servant.” Knowing God and belonging to him apparently give one the right to ask for God’s protection; to cling to God, and hide within his robes; to expect the Lord, like a good big brother, to go out and dispatch the bullies who threaten us.
But notice that the plea is not all one sided: the psalmist asks God to “Show me the path I should walk” and “Teach me to do your will;” and he seeks the guidance of God’s Spirit. He wants to do better, but first he needs relief. In biblical spirituality, asking forgiveness of sin was also a request for the removal of sin’s consequences. The psalmist is saying: “My misfortune flows from my sin; so forgive me, Lord, and deliver me from this distress.“ It is a simple formula that has never been annulled: we, too, can—in fact we must—turn unashamedly to God and say, ”I am your unworthy servant, O God, but in your goodness save me; save me from my sins and from the malice of my foes.”
Questions for Reflection:
Do you feel comfortable asking God to “put an end to your foes?”
Does such a prayer contradict Jesus’ injunction to “Turn the other cheek?”
We know Jesus prayed the Psalms, and he certainly had enemies. Can you imagine him praying these words?”
Do you believe, as the Psalm suggests, there is a connection between the sin and the distress, conflict, and opposition in our lives?