We covered this psalm in our funeral series here. It’s an acrostic meditation, each line begins with a progressive letter in the Hebrew alphabet. These compositions are not usually as tight as others, and the 25th Psalm does tend to wander a bit. The theme of sin and mercy is pronounced, and worthy of a serious reflection.
There are three nearly-equal sections: verses 1-7, 8-15, and 16 to the end. Rather than review the entire text, I thought I’d pull out a few verses that seem appropriate, some from each of the sections. Perhaps a cantor at a penance service might do the same for a choice of verses to proclaim in between the assembly’s rendering of a shared antiphon.
The opening verses hint at one reason we are confronted with our wrongdoing: it gets brought into the light and we feel shame or disgrace over it:
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul,
my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be disgraced;
do not let my enemies gloat over me. (1-2)
The psalmist frets about enemies, but sometimes those who oppose us are the ones who expose our flaws. We certainly don’t want to feel we are persons of ridicule, but an honest soul will notice and discern what is true, and what needs reform. In verse 3a, the psalmist is quick to remember that “No one is disgraced who waits for (God).”
The psamist petitions God for selective memory:
Remember your compassion and your mercy, O LORD,
for they are ages old.
Remember no more the sins of my youth;
remember me according to your mercy,
because of your goodness, LORD. (6-7)
Not only does the penitent appeal to a longer tradition than her or his personal sin, God is reminded of his “goodness.” God uses mercy as a benchmark of his judgment and discernment of us. Somewhat audacious, but that is a common theme in Jewish dealings with the all-powerful Creator of the Universe. The audacity to remind God of things is something we could do worse than to imitate.
In section II, an acknowledgement that our sin is serious stuff:
For the sake of your name, LORD,
pardon my guilt, though it is great. (11)
Section III begins with a plea to God. The Psalmist acknowledges great anguish. I think John Foley captures it with one of his early compositions for liturgy. Notice that by verse 18, the psalmist recognizes than sin may well be the source of this affliction:
Look upon me, have pity on me,
for I am alone and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart;
bring me out of my distress.
Look upon my affliction and suffering;
take away all my sins. (16-18)
Please, God: just take it all away. One time or another, who among us have not uttered this plea?
Psalm 25 would be great material for preaching at a communal service. In our cursory reading today, we’ve touched on many human themes than people would recognize in their own experiences. Effective preaching links the wisdom of the Bible with the lived reality of the listeners. It’s never more important than during a celebration of the Sacrament of Penance.