Joy of the Gospel

Comment on the Psalm for Palm Sunday

By Fr. Dumisani Vilakati, Diocese of Manzini, Eswatini

Psalm 22

This Sunday, being Palm Sunday, we are invited to sing a part of Psalm 22. This is the most cited Psalm in the passion narratives. In fact, Jesus recalls the first line of this Psalm as he hangs on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

In as much as the Psalm seems to be a song of lament expressing sorrow, nevertheless it also pronounces on the joys of the psalmist. This is how life is as we constantly experience joys and sorrows. The Palm Sunday liturgy also reveals parts of extreme joy with an exuberant crowd welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem as well as moments of extreme sorrow as Jesus goes through a betrayal, arrest, trial, torture and eventually dies on the cross.

The first two verses of the Psalm reveal the anguish of the psalmist who feels abandoned by God. This abandonment is also emphasised in terms of distance. “Why are you so far from me?” This will be repeated in verse 20: “O Lord be not far from me”. The anguish is continuous with cries taking place day and night without a change in circumstances. Yet, almost immediately, the psalmist expresses confidence in God who has acted in history. This is through God’s closeness to his ancestors. “In you our fathers have hoped. They hoped and you freed them…they were not confounded” (v. 5).

After this brief confidence in God, the psalmist heads back to anguish with a long monologue as he describes his sufferings. This is captured in imagery whence he feels far less than human. “I am a worm, and not a man, scorned by men and despised by people” (v. 7). The conclusion to this cry is in verse 22: “Rescue me from the jaws of the lion, my soul from the horns of the wild bull”.

As the Psalm concludes, we return to a cry of joy and confidence in God who is worthy to be praised. “I will proclaim your name to my brothers, I will praise you in the Church” (v. 23).

As indicated above, life is full of twists and turns, with joys and sorrows. As we go through all this, we are invited to keep our eyes on God who, in season and out of season, takes care of our souls. “For him my soul will live” (v.30).

Our Mother Mary is hailed as the Mother of Sorrows. She is also the Mother of Peace and joy. Some two weeks ago, visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, I was shown a statue of Mary in which she can be observed smiling and sad. When one draws closer to the statue, Mary looks sad and as one withdraws she begins to smile. This is true of Mary who is our mother in moments of joy and sorrow.

As we enter Holy week, let us be aware that God is with us at every moment. The crowds rightly proclaimed that day: Hosanna, which means please save. We also sing our own Hosanna, asking God to save us from every form of oppression and suffering.