Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Psalm 63: Remembering Judas' betrayal on Wednesday

The association of Wednesday with the councils of the Jews plotting to kill Our Lord and the betrayal of Judas goes back to the earliest days of Christianity: that it was a fast day throughout the year for this reason is attested to in many early Christian documents.

St Benedict certainly follows this tradition in his own prescriptions on fasting. Does he echo the theme liturgically however?

Human malice

Psalm 63, the first of the two variable psalms said at Lauds today, certainly suggests so. Indeed it is part of a set (the rest of which are said at Matins) which, according to the Navarre Commentary on the Psalms, deal with different aspects of the theme of human malice.

The original historical context for the psalm is not clear: the title clams Davidic authorship, and the style and language seems to support this, so some modern commentators have suggested that it may refer to David’s early days at Saul’s court, when enemies plotted to bring about his downfall.

The Fathers, however, gave it an entirely Christological interpretation, as Cassiodorus explains:

“The words of this heading, as has often been remarked, are wholly related to the Lord Christ, who is to speak through the entire psalm. These words are written without historical narration; the clarity of the heading seems to waft the light of the coming psalm over us. The Lord will speak of His passion, which has afforded life to the world and has poured on us the light of belief…initially prays that He be freed from fear of the Jewish people, as He relates their deceits and impious deeds as if they have already been performed. He teaches that they have failed in their acts of persecution, whereas He has attained the glory of resurrection.”

We are all Judas'...

Many of the patristic and medieval commentaries on the betrayal of Jesus are portrayed these days as ideologically unsound for their anti-semitism: they typically link, for example, the betrayal of Jesus by the Jews with the closure of the Old Covenant and the opening of the New to the Gentiles. Indeed, the (ferial) canticle set for today, the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2: 1-10) Hannah's change in status from the denigrated barren wife to the mother of the prophet Samuel was typically interpreted as a type for just this event.
Yet this psalm, and those same commentaries on it, places the election of the Gentiles in a slightly broader context: in the end, we must all choose to be whether part of the 'assembly of the malignant' (verse 2), resolute in wickedness (v6) or to join the just, the upright of heart.   The Apostles preached the works of the Lord (v10) to those who had crucified Jesus, offering them the chance of redemption.  And many of those same persecutors were indeed converted, as the life of St Paul attests. 
The early Christians fasted and did penance on Wednesday because they knew that we are all Judas' at heart, yet through the offer of grace won for us the cross; we too can reject the path of evil and rejoice in the Resurrection of Our Lord (v11).
Psalm 63
Psalm 63: Exaudi Deus

In finem. Psalmus David.
Unto the end, a psalm for David.
1 Exáudi, Deus, oratiónem meam cum déprecor: * a timóre inimíci éripe ánimam meam.
Hear O God, my prayer, when I make supplication to you: deliver my soul from the fear of the enemy.
2 Protexísti me a convéntu malignántium: * a multitúdine operántium iniquitátem.
You have protected me from the assembly of the malignant; from the multitude of the workers of iniquity.
3  Quia exacuérunt ut gládium linguas suas: * intendérunt arcum rem amáram, ut sagíttent in occúltis immaculátum.
For they have whetted their tongues like a sword; they have bent their bow a bitter thing, to shoot in secret the undefiled.
4  Súbito sagittábunt eum, et non timébunt: * firmavérunt sibi sermónem nequam.
They will shoot at him on a sudden, and will not fear: they are resolute in wickedness.
5 Narravérunt ut abscónderent láqueos: * dixérunt: Quis vidébit eos?
They have talked of hiding snares; they have said: Who shall see them?
6  Scrutáti sunt iniquitátes: * defecérunt scrutántes scrutínio.
They have searched after iniquities: they have failed in their search.
7  Accédet homo ad cor altum: * et exaltábitur Deus.
Man shall come to a deep heart: And God shall be exalted.
8  Sagíttæ parvulórum factæ sunt plagæ eórum: * et infirmátæ sunt contra eos linguæ eórum.
The arrows of children are their wounds: And their tongues against them are made weak
9  Conturbáti sunt omnes qui vidébant eos: * et tímuit omnis homo.
All that saw them were troubled; and every man was afraid.
10  Et annuntiavérunt ópera Dei, * et facta ejus intellexérunt.
And they declared the works of God, and understood his doings.
11  Lætábitur justus in Dómino, et sperábit in eo: * et laudabúntur omnes recti corde.
The just shall rejoice in the Lord, and shall hope in him: and all the upright in heart shall be praised.

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