How blessed is he who considers the helpless;
The Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble.
The Lord will protect him and keep him alive,
And he shall be called blessed upon the earth.
Psalm 41 completes Book I of the Psalms. It begins much as Psalm 1 begins: with a beatitude.
Blessed is the one who takes consideration for the helpless, the weak, the poor. It is these considerate ones who are blessed upon the earth. The psalmist affirms once again a crucial theme of the First Book of the Psalms: God is gracious and particularly committed to those who are weak, poor, needy, afflicted, humble, meek and oppressed.
Today’s Liberation Theologies are drawn from this understanding that God holds a “preferential option for the poor.”
Consequently those of us humans who also commit ourselves to these helpless ones are behaving the way God behaves; WE are blessed as we emulate Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer.
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
Who ate my bread,
Has lifted up his heel against me.
The treachery of a close friend, a person with whom one has made peace, a person who has shared bread together – this kind of enemy brings especial grief and sorrow. The psalmist has experienced such a traitor and cries out for vindication, for confirmation of his integrity in the face of accusations.
O Lord, be gracious to me and raise me up…
By this I know that You are pleased with me…
Usually we see the psalmists ask God to pay back the evil that is named, however our psalmist in 41 seems to want that job himself: “raise me up that I may repay them…” This request may be an expression of revenge but more likely, the one who began this psalm with a beatitude is seeking justice, not revenge.
“Liberation for the oppressed means judgment upon oppressors,” Clinton McCann observes. Again and again, our poets cry out for justice not only for their personal vindication but also as a way to vindicate God’s holy name.
As the Gospel of John tells the story in chapter 13, Judas’s betrayal of Jesus is interpreted as a fulfillment of Psalm 41. As Jesus shares the final Passover meal with his disciples, he says one of them would betray him. And then Jesus wraps a towel around his waist and kneels to wash their feet, even – and significantly – the feet of his betrayer.
I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’ From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.
So for this New Testament theologian, Jesus’ act of humility and death actually demonstrated God’s holiness. God did not take revenge upon the “enemies” of Jesus. Rather God vindicated the Holy Name by defeating treachery and death with resurrection and life.
According to this christology drawn from Psalm 41, God vindicated the suffering Jesus just as the psalmist had requested:
O Lord, be gracious to me and raise me up.
By this I know that You are pleased with me.
Each of the five books of the Psalms completes its message with doxology. And so as the conclusion to Book I, Psalm 41 ends with praise:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
From everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen.
J. Clinton McCann Jr. wrote the “Psalms” commentary in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996.