How blessed are the ones who consider the helpless;
The Lord will deliver in a day of trouble;
The Lord will protect and keep alive
And they shall be called blessed upon the earth.
Psalm 41 completes “Book 1” of the Psalms. This psalm begins much as Psalm 1 begins: with a beatitude.
Blessed are the ones who take 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: the gracious and compassionate God is particularly committed to the weak, the poor, the needy and afflicted, the humble, meek and oppressed.
Liberation Theologies are drawn from this understanding and assert 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 and we too are blessed as we emulate the compassion of Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer.
Then our poet makes clear that he sees himself as one of the “helpless ones.”
He details some of the treacherous acts of his enemies and pleads for God’s intervention and salvation.
Even my close friend whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
The treachery of a close friend, a person who has shared bread and trust – this kind of “enemy” brings especial grief and sorrow.
Evidently the psalmist has experienced such a traitor and cries out for vindication, for confirmation of his integrity in the face of false 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, but this 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.
Liberation for the oppressed means judgment upon oppressors. Clinton McCann observes.
Again and again, the psalmists cry out for justice not only for their personal vindication and reputation but also as a way to vindicate God’s holy name.
As the Gospel of John tells the story of Jesus’ passion in chapter 13, Judas’s betrayal of Jesus is interpreted as a fulfillment of Psalm 41.
When Jesus shares the final 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 so 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.
For John, 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 the christology of John 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 the conclusion of Book 1 is a song of 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.