Psalm 103 - Bless the Lord, O my soul

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Of David.
1) Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
2) Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
3) who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4) who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5) who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6) The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7) He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8) The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9) He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10) He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11) For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12) as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13) As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
14) For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

15) As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16) for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17) But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18) to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.

19) The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20) Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
obedient to his spoken word.
21) Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will.
22) Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Psalm 103
8th Sunday after Epiphany, Year B, verses 1-13, 22
Sunday between May 24 and 28, Year B, verses 1-13, 22
Proper 16, Sunday between August 21 and August 27, Year C, verses 1-8
Proper 19, Sunday between September 11 and September 17, Year A, verses 1-13, 22(1-7), 8-13

The Hebrew word ברך (barak) is a verb meaning "to bless," or "to kneel." One form of the verb specifically means "to bend the knee in giving a gift."

We may think that blessing is an act of generosity. We give a blessing, we bless others with gifts of our money, our time, our loyalty.

But we are confused if we think of blessing as a transaction. God's heavenly economy does not work like our world, one of seeking favor and advantage, of rewards and punishments. A blessing given does not diminish the giver. Blessing is about relationships, they can and should be acts of honesty and love, where the bless-er declares their interest in the one being blessed. This does not depend on any reciprocation from the bless-ed.

Let us take from the Hebrew the idea that blessing in an act of humility. We bend our knee and bow before the one we are blessing. The prayer reminds us that our days are like grass, we flourish like a flower of the field - for but a time. If our mortal life passes away with the wind, why then should our blessings not be our flowering, and we let them bloom every chance we get?

Bless the Lord, O my soul. This prayer is actually addressed to ourselves, to our soul, to our spirit. We are preaching to ourselves, this psalm being the equivalent of a daily affirmation, where we tell ourselves what we need to hear.

Do not forget all his benefits: redemption of life, forgiveness of sin, steadfast love and mercy, life-long goodness.

While we receive blessings from the Lord, this psalm is calling us most directly to bless God for his surpassing goodness. It is not asking God for more stuff, but asking us to recognize God's bounty to us. Just as the rest of creation, the angels the hosts of heaven, the Lord's many ministers, and all God's works, everywhere, are all called to bless the Lord.

Now, while the prayer verbally addresses ourselves and secondarily the angels, in faith we hope and know that God is listening-in to this prayer of our heart. For our blessing to God is about honestly acknowledging our relationship. The Lord is the creator and we, the created. The Lord is the fount of every blessing. And we participate in that holy state every time we bless. Created in God's image, we should be reflected God in our deeds and in our attitude.

     Bless the Lord, O my soul,
     and all that is within me,
     bless his holy name.

Anonymous. Kneeling statuette of King Amasis. Egypt, 560-526 BCE, Bronze, precious metal inlay and leaf. Metropolitan Museum of Art, used under (CC0 1.0).
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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