Reflections on the Seven Penitential Psalms: Psalm 143

By Graziano Marcheschi, M.A. D.Min

Psalm 143 — 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?

Lenten Prayer & Reflection Links